For the first time in more than a year, Europe is travelling again. We spoke to experts on post-pandemic travel trends and what they say about us.
In the past year, each of us has tried, in our own way, to replicate the feeling of travel from home. With transcontinental zoom calls, new cooking experiments, and “live” online events, we have attempted to substitute the feeling of going away. But by its very definition, travel can’t truly be experienced in this way. Now, as we reach the middle of 2021, more and more countries are cautiously creaking open their borders. Europe has begun to move. With the travel sector re-energising, what are we longing for and what does this say about us?
‘Our relationship with our own mortality has changed’
Much Better Adventures co-founder Sam Bruce says that holidaymakers are craving one-off, ferocious travel experiences. His company has seen a big uptick in trips like trekking to Mount Everest’s base camp and 100km expeditions in Greenland.
“People are gravitating towards more adventurous experiences than they might have done 18 months ago, possibly because our relationship with our own mortality has now changed quite a bit. Life’s so short and we all appreciate that now more than ever before, and we’re seeing that reflected in what people are booking.”
This quest for adventure was confirmed by Intrepid Travel’s Managing Director Zina Bencheikh. Their Everest expeditions have also been popular alongside walking the Inca trail and Antarctica Expeditions. More and more people are looking to be physically challenged when they travel. Agencies are saying that people who would never have considered themselves outdoorsy are booking adventure trips.
“Our guests are seeking the great outdoors, majestic scenery and wildlife – we have all appreciated nature and wildlife much more this year,” says Donna Jeavons UK director of sales and marketing at Trafalgar.
Home or Away
In the United Kingdom, the majority of holidaymakers are still booking either domestically or close by in Europe. Scotland is proving popular across several travel agencies, in particular around the highlands.
Portugal and Iceland are Europe’s most sought after destinations, likely due to their UK green listing, says Intrepid Travel. Italy and France are also seeing an uptick, in keeping with pre-pandemic patterns.
Short-haul for 2021 and long-haul for 2022
Across the agencies we spoke to, there was unanimous consensus on one thing: the farther in the future, the further we are travelling.
Angela Sloan, UK head of sales at Uniworld, says the confidence vaccines have brought is behind this, with Zina Bencheikh from Intrepid Travel saying that in late-2021 and 2022, people are willing to book more “far-flung” destinations. Trafalgar’s Donna Jeavon’s confirmed this, saying her customers are booking “closer to home in the short term, but they are certainly looking more long-haul for 2022 and beyond.”
As the working world withdrew into their homes, the lines between work and play shifted and blurred. The reframing of work culture in the pandemic gave way to an unintended consequence - the reframing of leisure.
A resulting trend emerged in the travel industry - “Work from Anywhere.” Rather than an act of escape, travel was integrated into a regular working day, blending two worlds into one.
Luxury travel company Black Tomato says that the new trend “reveals a paradigm shift in professional culture but also provides an opportunity for destinations to become inspiring backdrops for longer, extremely private stays.”
However, travel sites are observing that people do want to escape the working world too. With work, family, relaxation time and more all competing for time in the same domestic space for months on end, many new travellers are looking to articulate breaks between these worlds. This has seen a rise in bookings of ‘once in a lifetime trips’.
Nostalgia for the ‘old normal’
Despite our best efforts, there’s no arguing with the fact that the pandemic divided us. Whether we were thousands of kilometres away from home when the world’s airports shut or next door to elderly relatives that couldn’t be put at risk, the coronavirus separated us from our loved ones. Before we take off on adventures, Black Tomato predicts that we will want to reunite with friends and family.
Multi-generational groups or groups of friends travelling together are popular. “We’re seeing that our travellers are certainly still seeking the opportunity to travel together, having spent so much of the last year apart,” says Anna Vine, head of marketing for Contiki holidays.
With a fresh perspective on what really matters, travellers are revisiting sentimental spots. Some couples are going back to their honeymoon destination and others are returning to their most memorable holidays. The rediscovery of our most special moments is telling us that it’s not the act of travelling alone that makes it so worthwhile; it’s the people we bring with us and the memories we cultivate together.
Conscious travel is on the rise
The idea that the pandemic put the world on pause has become something of a cliché. Yet there is some truth to it. As the world stopped travelling, we had time to think about what it meant to us and how it was impacting the world.
Agencies are saying that the new world of travel is likely to be slower than before. Be it ecological or health-wise, we are more conscious than ever of the fragility of our environment and our responsibility to look after it. Contiki’s Anna Vine says that her customers are travelling “more meaningfully and consciously than ever before.”
What is low travel?
Plane travel is unlikely to disappear but it is definitely on the decline. Instead of multi-stop journeys, travellers are opting to fly to one destination, then continue by ‘low travel.’ Low travel is any travel that takes place on the ground - train, car, by bike or on footbikes.
This is also partly because holiday bookings for this year tend to be longer than before. Workers have holidays banked up that they didn’t want to take in 2020 and are ready to go all out now.
‘Lockdown fatigue’ is also playing a role in this. Our newfound appreciation for what we gain when we travel is also contributing to longer holidays. Black Tomato is observing that people are interested in “uncovering the culture of a place by spending a month or longer remote working in its rural countryside, learning a new skill, or having a mental or physical reset.”
Rather than rushing about cities trying to stuff in all of the sites, “travel in 2021 will be more about how you do things and less about what you see.”
Slow and steady is the travel trend of 2021
People are spending more time than ever researching trips before booking. Travel companies are getting lots of enquiries from customers who have never used an agency before. It could be that they want the financial security that comes with booking through a company, after a year of cancellations.
Post-pandemic, it seems that our trips will be slower and more thoughtful. In many ways, they reflect the last year. How we travel tells us something about what it is to be human. The act of travelling is fundamental to this condition. As we begin to move out into the world again, this time, we’ll pause to think about what that means.