How lockdowns, quarantines and COVID testing will change summer travel in 2021

Something is different about travel.

Maybe you’ve noticed it. But what? And how will it change the way you travel this summer?

If you want a by-the-numbers-answer, you can consult the Deloitte State of the Consumer Tracker, which offers a monthly read of travel sentiment. It suggests travelers remain reluctant to travel and waiting for the pandemic to subside. Generally speaking, more than half the country wants to stay home – or at least that’s what they say.

You can also look for yourself. Airport terminals and hotel lobbies continue to look like hospitals, with all those masks and latex gloves. And that will continue, according to experts like Rudy Dunlap.

“Even in destinations where vaccination is relatively widespread, mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent sanitizing will continue to be the norm,” says Dunlap, a tourism expert and associate professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

What should you expect when you hit the road this summer? Travel will feel different. Americans will be visiting the same places, but for different reasons. Safety and reliable travel advice are more important than ever. And, for at least the next few weeks, the travel scene will still be relatively quiet.

Travel is different for almost everyone

People are thinking of travel differently. It’s shifted from a short-term activity to a lifestyle during the pandemic. Nancy Charles-Parker, a retired diplomat from Denver, visited the Big Island of Hawaii during the pandemic and decided to stay. She’s been on the island for the last seven months. Instead of attending cultural events and exploring new places, she’s led a quieter life. “My friends have been sea turtles, colorful birds, and bright-colored fish while I’m snorkeling, and occasional wild goats,” she says.

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We’re going farther

Travelers are making plans to leave longer and go farther this summer. “I’ve had requests for longer stays – even months – to fulfill bucket lists,” says Silvana Frappier, owner of North Star Destinations, a travel agency in Boston. Private rental homes are in high demand. Travelers use them as their headquarters and then explore an entire region or country.

Where should you stay? Travelers are flocking to Airbnb, Vrbo more than hotels during COVID-19 pandemic. But why?

Most of the world is still closed

With most of Europe still off limits due to COVID travel restrictions, many Americans are choosing to vacation in Caribbean destinations like Aruba and the Bahamas.

Domestic destinations are big this summer. But as the rest of the world struggles to reopen, Americans’ options for international travel remain limited, says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex. “Most Caribbean islands have reopened to international tourists and many Americans are traveling or planning trips to Turks and Caicos, Aruba, Bahamas, and other popular island destinations,” she says.

You can’t do it alone

People discovered that having a travel agent can help you during an uncertain time – and help you out when you run into obstacles.

Critics left travel agents for dead in the years leading up to the pandemic. Many experts had written them off as relics, their jobs replaced by more efficient websites. But covid-19 changed that. People discovered that having a travel agent can help you during an uncertain time. “A travel advisor can listen to your fears and help you design a trip,” says Phyllis Polaner, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based travel advisor with Smartflyer.

Safety matters more than ever

The post-pandemic traveler will be much more cautious, say experts. “Travelers have adopted new filters for trip planning,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue. “Especially for international excursions. They’re selecting destinations that have robust healthcare infrastructure and stable pandemic protocols with reliable border management.” Richards says they’re taking extra precautions, like signing up for a month of trip protection instead of 7 or 14 days, to allow for a potential quarantine.

It’s not a stampede (at least not yet)

It’s not a free-for-all – at least not yet. Consider Katherine Stewart’s situation. She’s accustomed to traveling several times a month as a commercial litigator. But after the shutdown, her law firm in Syracuse, New York, moved most of its meetings to videoconferencing. She spent the holidays at home. She’s planning her first trip this spring to attend a friend’s bachelorette party in Charleston, South Carolina. “The thing I’m most concerned about is the testing requirements,” she says.

Earlier this year, there was talk about requiring a negative COVID test for domestic flights, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t go through with it in the end. But people like Stewart say it’s easier to stay home, for now.

The lockdowns, quarantines and testing requirements have changed the way we travel – maybe permanently. We’ll know more in a few weeks.

How to travel in the ‘new’ normal

According to Trawick International, 40% of vacationers are buying travel insurance these days as opposed to just 10% pre-9/11.

Be sustainable, responsible and slow. Those are the three post-pandemic buzzwords worth knowing, says Ioanna Dretta, CEO of Marketing Greece, a nonprofit organization that promotes Greek tourism. “More and more travelers are turning to slow tourism, having as a top priority to explore the destination in depth, through their senses, instead of crossing off a must-visit list,” she says.

Consider travel insurance. Before 9/11, only 10% of travelers purchased travel insurance, says Bailey Foster, vice president of trip insurance Trawick International, a travel insurance company. “Today we are seeing almost 40% of travelers who are booking trips are buying travel insurance,” she says. Why? Many countries now require insurance. And more travelers are worried about getting sick on vacation.

Check your passport. If you’re planning to travel internationally, make sure your passport is ready. Mandy McKaskle, a luxury travel advisor at Embark Beyond, says yours should be valid at least through the end of the year. “Renewal time is running 10 to 12 weeks, and even expedited service is 4 to 6 weeks,” she warns. “Planning ahead is crucial.”

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