Cover Travel trends in 2021 to look out for (photo: Getty Images)

Industry experts predict we'll be travelling very differently after border restrictions are lifted post-Covid—and they're not talking about face masks

After nearly one full year of global travel restrictions, thwarted holidays, and cancelled flights, it's no surprise that eager travellers have kept busy scouring the web for 2021 opportunities and adventures. Travel industry experts, packagers, agents, and online aggregators are optimistic—and predict that when the world is on the move once again, we'll all be travelling in very different ways. From value systems to experiences and even destinations, here are five major shifts to look out for when you're planning your first post-pandemic longhaul trip this year. 

Related: Hong Kong social distancing rules for Covid-19

1. Younger travellers

On the heels of a pandemic that posed the greatest threat to seniors and baby boomers, the average age of travellers has dropped precipitously across all categories. Travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth recently released data indicating that, while in 2019, the average age of travellers was 50, by the end of 2020, the average age of travellers had dropped to 38. "Of their total travel share, Squaremouth reports growth in every group under 60, while every age group over 60 saw a decline from last year," the report indicated. As age and generational demographics of travellers shift to Gen X, it's likely that other consumer travel trends—such as experiences on offer, popular destinations, preferred accommodations, and amenities—will follow suit.

Related: Essentials to pack for hotel quarantine in Hong Kong

2. Spontaneity and last-minute travel

Anyone who's planned a trip or even held plane tickets anytime over the past year will be familiar with the anxiety and emotional rollercoaster of uncertainty that comes along with daily travel restriction updates and entry requirement changes. That's why we're not surprised to learn that, one of the largest accommodation bookings sites online, predicts that "spontaneity will be the word of the year for 2021" because "travellers intend to be more impulsive than ever, following 2020's cancelled trips, boredom, and all round 'year of nothing.'" 

The results of a mass survey the site conducted in December showed that, looking forward:

  • 32 per cent of travellers want to make spontaneous decisions
  • 28 per cent don't want to plan
  • 26 per cent would take a long-haul trip for just a few days
  • 25 per cent say they wouldn't plan any activities ahead of arrival
  • 24 per cent plan on saying 'yes' to new experiences

"Twenty-twenty was the year of staying home, postponing trips and posting old vacation pictures on social media. This year, travelers are ready to 'seize the stay' when travel returns and they feel comfortable to take the trips they missed out on," said Josh Belkin, Vice President, Global brand, in a statement. "We saw that when travel restrictions eased for many in July and August 2020, over half of bookings were made three days or less ahead of their stay, compared to 40 per cent in 2019. People are ready to channel their inner spontaneous self, dropping everything at the last minute to get away and enjoy the best that hotel life has to offer."

In good news for luxury hotels, 17 per cent of respondents said they plan to book a five-star hotel for their next trip.

Related: This is the world's most powerful passport in 2021

3. Seeking experiences

After a year of being cooped up at home or in one city, it looks like everyone's keen to get out there and do stuff—and not just sit on a beach sipping pina coladas (although that does sound nice right about now). According to a Skyscanner survey conducted in November, people are itching to make human connections and have travel experiences, not just passive vacations. 

"The events of 2020 have underscored the importance of human connection and quality time with loved ones, and we know from our website traffic and customer behaviour that travellers are turning their gaze to next year," says travel expert Mark Crossey. "We predict that many customers will prioritise spend on experiences over material goods in 2021, looking to make special memories with loved ones."

According to their data, travellers are increasingly searching for experiences that fall into the following categories:

  • Zoom out: Going off-grid into nature
  • Making magic memories: Creating family memories at Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration year in Orlando
  • Regenerative travel: Service-orientated travel to help rebuild destinations post-Covid
  • Recovery bubble travel: Visiting destinations that maintained their domestic infrastructure throughout the pandemic, such as South Korea (see below)
  • Greece: One of the top social media travel Instagram spots of 2020, Greece remains at the top of many bucket lists for 2021
  • Swell times ahead: Outdoor-oriented sporty trips, such as learning how to surf in California
  • The classics: Missing New York and the Balaerics? Yes, so does everyone else
  • Working from paradise: New remote workers are set to arrive in the Maldives, the Caribbean, and Mexico
  • Beyond the city: The bookings site has noticed an uptick in searches in Southwest England, Napa Valley, and Garrotxa
  • Sporting heroes: If and when large-scale sporting events are rescheduled, people seem to be eager to get back into stadiums

Related: The secret lounge amenity at Hong Kong International Airport you need to know about

4. Destination Asia

With all the positive global media coverage around Asia's early handling of the pandemic, it's no surprise that "many are looking east for a glimpse of what the road to recovery might look like," the Skyscanner survey revealed. According to its data, Seoul, Korea, ranked tenth in the most-searched-for destinations this year.

5. Travel with intention

Think of this trend as 'travel style'—after an introspective year comprising limited contact with others, many travellers are reconsidering how they move through the world. According to predictions by Overseas Adventure Travel, the industry will see an uptick in:

  • Purposeful travel: "Post-pandemic, many travellers want to travel more responsibly and with purpose, engaging and learning from other cultures and making a positive contribution to the local communities they visit. This personal aspect of travel and the chance to change individual lives will be sought more than ever by many travellers after missing out on these opportunities in 2020."
  • Women's solo and sharing travel: Ten years ago, solo women travellers accounted for only 27 per cent of OAT's bookings; in 2021 and 2022, solo women account for 50 per cent of the agency's bookings.
  • Revenge travel: Travelers' whose big plans were thwarted in 2020 will be on the road with a vengeance in 2021, the agency says—especially travellers over the age of 50.
  • Slow travel: After a year of international lockdown, travel agents predict that, overall, travellers have acquired a taste for a slower pace. "Slow travel aims to give travellers a rich understanding of life in their destination. Interactions with local people, including opportunities to learn through frank discussions on timely topics, allow travellers to experience a community on a deeper level."
  • Americans in Europe: 40 per cent of respondents place Europe and the UK at the top of their lists post-pandemic
  • Private travel experiences: For the safety and privacy-minded, there's bubble travel: ultra-small-group travel designed to shield groups and families from exposure to other travellers and/or public transport. 
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