When will travel return? Predictions for cruises, international destinations, tours and more

Covid-19 has put the travel to a halt. While experts agree the tourism industry remains in flux, there are early signs of adaptation and resilience that are fueling consumer confidence. 

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While most Americans aren’t yet ready to book their next dream vacation, they are starting to browse. This past week, top booking sites have grown web traffic. Roughly 87% of American travelers are hoping to take a vacation by the end of 2021, according to a new customer poll by InsureMyTrip. 

While there are safety challenges ahead, there remains a strong desire to visit other parts of the world – eventually. Here’s some predictions on when travelers will actually be able to do it. 

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Road trips 

Rebound potential: Very high

Road trips and staycations will be first in line for a rebound. RVShare, a rental marketplace for travel trailers and motorhomes, is reporting a 650 percent rise in rental bookings since early April, as more families are considering drivable summer destinations. Roughly 65% of RV renters want to visit a national park or campground in the next three months, according to a customer survey.

What to expect: At campgrounds, expect bathhouses restrictions and beefed up cleaning protocols around the facilities. Picnic tables and seating areas may be removed to discourage guests from congregating, along with other changes. Campgrounds will offer more individual activities for guests and adopt virtual check-ins.

Domestic destinations 

Rebound potential: Slow

Most experts agree it’s difficult to gauge when air travel will stabilize. The CEO of Boeing says air travel may take two or three years to finally rebound. Requiring passengers to wear face masks and aggressive cleaning measures by U.S. airlines may help give consumer confidence a boost. The latest search data from Expedia and Booking.com shows there’s already interest in destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando and Hawaii.

What to expect: “Families will be more cautious about booking a trip, but they also may want to spend less on a vacation. The good news is that there will be plenty of deals in 2021, especially for resorts and hotels,” says Mark Jackson, who runs the travel deals section for Brad’s Deals.

International destinations

Rebound potential:  Slow

International travel bans and border closures are likely to remain in place for several months, with many countries discouraging summer travel. While search volume for fall travel is still faring better than this summer, it’s still down year-over-year and continues to decline in most regions.

But, it’s not all bad. Travel data company 3Victors reports some early-affected countries are beginning to show a very slow and gradual increase in search demand. This correlates with countries that experienced early deaths and curve-flattening efforts. For example, Norway and South Korea have already begun to see positive ticketing trends.

Cruise lines

Rebound potential:  Too soon to predict

A “No-Sail Order” issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains in effect until July 24 and could be extended beyond that date. While some cruise lines, including Carnival, do have planned sailings set for August 2020, the CDC has yet to determine whether it will be safe to resume sailing at that time. On a more positive note, AmaWaterways, a luxury river cruise company, opened up 2022 bookings due to increased demand.

What to expect: Even if the CDC gives cruise lines the green light to go back to sea by late July, not all are ready to restart operations right away.

Norwegian said it would take an incremental approach, relaunching five to six ships per month until its full fleet of 28 ships (spread across its three lines) is back up to full speed, which the company should take six months. Royal Caribbean said operations would only resume only start once they are fully prepared, with proper health and hygiene protocols in place.

“We understand that when our ships return to service, they will be sailing in a changed world,” Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean’s parent company, said in its  earnings report. “How well we anticipate and solve for this new environment will play a critical role in keeping our guests and crew safe and healthy, as well as position our business and that of our travel agent partners to return to growth.”

Once they and other cruise lines relaunch, there will be increased precautions that could include using technology to limit crowds during check-in and on the ship, the reduction of touch points, wearing masks and the alteration or elimination of the buffet.


Rebound potential: Likely 2021

Major tour companies are reporting an uptick in inquiries for early 2021. “We are already starting to see trends in interest for destinations like the national parks, but customers are actively researching other regions to include Iceland, Finland and Ireland,” says Jeff Roy, executive vice president of Collette.

What to expect: Smaller group trips and private excursions. Itineraries will be carefully crafted with social distancing considerations.

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