If you’re an avid traveler, like I am, you’re dreaming of what 2021 might bring. Road trips close to home will still be popular as in 2020, but as comfort zones expand so will our senses of adventure and distances we travel. For now, I am searching the internet to imagine that dream vacation—maybe it’s a cruise or a flight across country to a city I’ve never visited or a road trip to a national park I’ve never been to. Whatever form it takes, I am looking forward with exuberant anticipation to transforming that dream into a vacation in 2021.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic travel within the U.S. is expected to drop nearly 30 percent in 2020 from 2019. The sad fallout of that culminates in job losses, business closures and bankruptcies. But in 2021 American domestic travelers are expected to make up the bulk of that shortfall, a welcome prediction for the hoteliers, tour operators, cruise lines, airlines—and their employees.
At this juncture, it would take a crystal ball to know what is actually in store on the travel front in 2021, but I, for one, look ahead with optimism. And so are many of the travel providers Northwest travelers have come to rely on. Whether your plans include traveling far afield or staying close to home, expect stiff competition for reservations as many travelers are gearing up for 2021 now after a long 2020 of staying home or taking shorter road trips.
The larger cruise lines that depart for Alaska out of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., for instance, went on hiatus in 2020, but are retooling for a bang-up 2021 season. For the sake of passenger and crew health and safety, you can expect things to be a little different on board, such as social distancing between parties and possible capacity restrictions or closures in gyms, spas and pools. And you’ll likely say so-long to buffets. Shore excursions might accommodate fewer guests, making competition for a spot tougher. But these safety protocols won’t change the overall experience of cruising, the majestic scenery or the fascinating ports of call.
According to Windstar Cruises CEO Andrew Todd, “We have taken extraordinary measures to operate our yachts safely.”
Todd is referring to the fact that the cruise line has implemented crucial measures, such as enhanced sanitation protocols, health screenings, additional medical staff on board, crew training and expanded dining times with outdoor dining. The Windstar Cruises (windstarcruises.com) ship Star Breeze will begin its Alaska itineraries beginning in June 2021 and sailing throughout the summer.
Likewise, cruise lines operating very small vessels, like UnCruise Adventures, and those operating larger vessels, like Holland America, will also take crucial measures to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew.
If you have flown in 2020, you’ve noticed that airports are largely deserted, and many services are closed. Of course, airlines have implemented safety protocols in 2020—encouraging or requiring passengers to wear face coverings, social-distance seating when possible, no onboard food and beverage service and no repeat-touch items in seat pockets, like inflight magazines—and I anticipate most of those cautions will remain in 2021.
Alaska Airlines (alaskaair.com), for example, has installed HEPA filters in the air circulation systems on their aircraft that are 99.9 percent or more effective in removing particulate contaminants and pathogens.
Touchless services will replace old-fashioned hands–on services more and more in airport terminals. For example, face-recognition check-in may replace touch-screen check-in in many airports as the technology is changed out. And social distancing in terminals is likely to stay.
Hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts and even campgrounds implemented procedures in 2020 that are designed to keep staff and guests safe. The degree to which they will be relaxed (or even tightened) depends upon the governmental mandates in their locales. Even as health and safety protocols become more relaxed, some lodging establishments may decide to keep measures in place simply because they are a good idea.
On tours and group excursions, you can expect social distancing and fewer passengers. Tour guides may or may not require face coverings. In many cases, private tours will replace group tours, giving you and your party an individualized and, oftentimes, more customized experience. If you book a tour, be prepared to follow rules that will keep you, your fellow guests and your guides safe.
Museums and other attractions that have reopened will be more popular than ever as traveler confidence with public places increases after their long months of closures, but with cautious measures in place, like limited, timed admittance to reduce crowd size and safe distancing.
Most airlines, cruise lines and tour operators are offering flexible and more relaxed cancellation policies to mitigate your risk in the event you change plans. Be sure you understand and are comfortable with these policies before booking—it could save you some heartache and money.
Of course, the travel landscape of 2021 depends on many variables. We optimists believe the worst of 2020 will be behind us by then, and our travel dreams can become wonderful realities.
Written by Henry Allen.