by Sarah Marshall
It goes without saying that 2020 has hit our industry hard.
With quarantine restrictions increasingly dished out with very little warning, it's beginning to feel as if there are no longer any safe bets for travellers wanting to book a holiday this year.
Unsurprisingly, many travellers are stepping on the brakes and turning their attention to next year - a rosy future on the horizon, when Covid chaos will hopefully be under control.
Right now, it's hard to imagine where we'll be in six weeks - let alone six months - but according to some key operators, several trends are beginning to emerge.
Bucket lists are booming
During lockdown, when movements were limited, the only possible way to travel and explore was in our dreams. Now those wild, adventurous thoughts are edging closer to a reality, with bookings up for once in a lifetime trips.
G Adventures, say they have seen more interest in itineraries such as climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, walking the Inca Trail in Peru or sailing to the seventh continent, Antarctica. In Europe, Kirker Holidays say trips on the Orient Express are proving to be very popular, meaning only limited cabins will be available for next year.
The ideal ship shape is small
Given the controversy around cruising and Coronavirus, it's hardly surprising most people are opting for smaller vessels next year. While multiple leviathan ghost ships sit empty offshore from England's south coast, river vessels are powering up for a busy schedule in '21.
Jules Verne have been taking bookings for their barge holidays in France, and trips along Portugal's winelands on the Douro River. Abercrombie & Kent, meanwhile, predict luxury expedition cruising will be a big growth area: Sanctuary Retreats' voyages in Myanmar and along the Mekong are doing well for them, along with Silversea's trips to Antarctica.
Staying in the frozen south, Exodus have already sold multiple cabins on a photographic voyage to South Georgia with wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein. Quite a feat for a new trip launched in the midst of a pandemic.
Slow travel is ramping up
Before lockdown, the world was accelerating at an unsustainable pace. While we're all desperate to see normality resume, none of us want to return to the fast lane. As a consequence, people are choosing to move at a slower pace.
Cox & Kings have seen greater interest in their longer itineraries, with more nights spent in each destination - a trend mirrored by findings from booking engine Opodo, who say 30% of trips booked for the first quarter of next year are longer than 15 days.
Original Travel go one step further, saying interest in sabbaticals is growing. They cite rolled-over annual leave as one of the explanations: in March, business secretary Alok Sharma enabled employees to carry over up to four weeks’ statutory annual leave entitlement into the next two years.
Seasonal sights are in hot demand
It's always been advisable to book ahead for popular events. Even more so in 2021, given the number of shifted bookings from this year and the prospect of continued limited flight capacity.
A&K report hotels in Japan are looking busy for the popular cherry blossom season, and they also recommend travellers book early if they want to trek gorillas in Rwanda on a specific date.
One of the most in-demand activities is witnessing the wildebeest migration in Kenya's Masai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti. Gordie Owles, commercial director of Asilia Africa says: "Safaris are big-ticket purchases which are often booked 18 months in advance, so we are now in the situation that our migration camps are full for peak season 2021."
Entry limits might restrict visitors
It's not only seasonal spectacles that are selling out. Many galleries, museums and attractions are still operating on the basis they may only be able to admit limited numbers.
"Capacity limits may be around for some time after other restrictions have been lifted, to avoid large crowds," warns Patrick Millar, marketing manager at Kirker Holidays, whose Cultural Tours programme is already selling well.
It's a similar story further afield. In North Africa, A&K say allocations for many of the ancient sites in Egypt are filling up.
Last minute or long term?
Uncertainty has resulted in many travellers booking holidays at the last minute to ensure it's still possible to reach their destination. That trend may continue into next year, but a number of people are planning ahead - even beyond 2021.
Chris McIntyre, MD at Expert Africa, has noticed this trend. "We recently booked a substantial trip for clients who had only started talking to us about their itinerary just two weeks before they got on the plane; conversely we are holding more bookings for two years hence (to travel in 2022 or even 2023) than we ever have," he says.
"This fits for us, with the Covid era, whereby people are either seizing a window to travel at short notice or they are planning big trips a year or so into the future, by which time they expect travel to have reached a new normal."
About the Author
A journalist with 20 years’ experience in the lifestyle sector,
Sarah currently holds the position of travel editor at the UK’s national press agency, PA Media. Her stories are syndicated to the UK regional press (print and online) and overseas with a potential readership of 3 million.
Sarah also freelances for leading national newspaper titles including The Daily Telegraph and The Times/Sunday Times. Her areas of focus include wildlife, adventure, conservation and culture.