Graphic by K8 Strassman

Will 2021 bring a summer of travel?

After the year we’ve had, who doesn’t want to get away? Put in for vacation time and stick some pins in your travel map… by Summer 2021, we will all be tripping.

2020 may have grounded our travel plans, but not our desire to get away. If anything, many of us could use a vacation now more than ever. What’s gotten complicated is where we can and can’t go, and how we get there.

COVID didn’t ban travel completely, it just forced those that wanted or needed to travel to do it differently. In fact, there’s a subset of jetsetters that have been experimenting with travel this entire time — and finding ways to do it safely: road trips to unexpected places, extended stays to change up their WFH environment, and increased PPE when traveling by air.

Momentum for 2021 vacation travel doubled, up from 5 in June to 10 this month.

In 2020, most didn’t quite know how to travel or where to go… By 2021, we won’t need to experiment — we know how to plan. And for those that were weary about it in 2020, there are new indicators every day leading us to believe Summer 2021 will be the summer of travel:

  • The vaccine is expected to reach the masses by Spring 2021 and start working its magic
  • Airlines are taking extra caution to ensure passenger safety — flying is now safer than eating out
  • Homeshare company Airbnb broke the biggest IPO of 2020 — in spite of all the travel advisories

Covid cases are still surging and the virus is far from going away. Travel companies have an opportunity to lead the future of responsible travel, and to wield their influence over early adopters of travel in positive ways. As the travel influencers, it’ll be their responsibility to inspire people to travel responsibly so we can keep our world open.

No matter where we travel to in 2021, one discussion we are sure we will not be having: what are we eating on the plane?

And we are all fine with that. Airlines thought they were too expensive. Passengers thought they were lousy. Now, the one thing we can all agree on: we can skip the in-flight snacks & meals because they are not safe. Travelers are opting to eat before they go and keep their beverage intake light (and through a straw)… lest they have to take yet another risk — using the airplane bathroom.

It’s a small price to pay to protect our future and keep us traveling… We’ll eat and drink plenty once we get there.

THE DECODE

Here’s how travel is hitting on all 5 Drivers of Momentum right now.

DISRUPTION: Soon after the pandemic hit, the hospitality industry went into fight or flight mode. It was the companies that realized that people didn’t stop traveling, they just started traveling differently that ultimately came out on top. To survive, the successful companies went against the grain to attract those travelers.

Airbnb is a prime example of a company that flipped the situation on its head. During Q2 (the height of the pandemic) mass cancellations created a massive loss in their revenue. By May, they identified a population of people traveling again to non-traditional getaways and new homes for remote working.

Pre-pandemic, Airbnb faced criticism for being the less clean and safe option (as compared to hotels). By spring 2020, Airbnb effectively re-positioned themselves as the safe solution for the early group of quarantine travelers:

  • Enables travelers to have more control over their accommodations / environment — more sanitized and more private
  • Direct access to the host — the DTC assurance made people feel more comfortable than staying with a large corporation
  • Remote locations you can drive to and stay long term

“People got in cars and started booking Airbnbs within 300 miles, and booking longer-term stays as well,” Chesky said. “Those working from home wanted to work from a bigger home; college kids locked out of campus wanted to escape from mom and dad’s house; others wanted to live closer to their families, but not with their families.”

The takeaway? By doubling down on this unexpected target and repositioning themselves as the ultimate quarantine travel option,Airbnb reported a $219.3 million third-quarter profit and closed the most successful IPO of 2020. Fitting that the company was born out of the 2008 financial crisis and went public in a pandemic. Crazy… the idea of a travel company going public during a pandemic.

Great Wolf Lodge, a national waterpark hotel chain, also changed the narrative & became the pioneer of “safe to play”. Under the Paw Pledge program they committed to “keeping you safe while you play.” Great Wolf Lodge established new health & safety measures, including:

  • Practicing & actively enforcing 10-feet social distancing within the lodge
  • Creating contactless environments & procedures that minimize surface contact
  • Increasing the frequency of cleaning & enhanced sanitization protocols
  • Requiring guests 5+ to wear a face covering that fully covers their nose & mouth and secures under their chin
  • Ensuring access to PPE and amenities throughout the lodge & requiring employees to wear PPE

The quick adoption of these protocols allowed for Great Wolf Lodge to establish a reputation as safe for both its guests and the community of people those guests come into contact with after their stay.

INNOVATION: Airlines are finding new ways to incentivize people to (safely) travel. Free checked bags or complementary in-flight meals won’t cut it. They are evolving their approach to incentivizing travelers by constantly introducing new methods of protecting traveler safety.

  • Delta and Alitalia are pushing boundaries to eliminate the required quarantine on flights from the US to Italy. Opening the first such route linking the US and Europe since travel restrictions were introduced, Delta is making waves by requiring three negative COVID tests: a PCR test 72 hours before departure, a rapid test prior to boarding & another upon arrival. After all that, flyers have all their freedom — no mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
  • Lufthansa’s is keeping passengers spaced out and relaxed. “Sleeper’s Row” is an upgraded economy experience that lets you book three (sometimes even four) adjacent seats in a single row. Sleeper’s Row travelers also get a few business-class perks: a premium pillow, topper & blanket, as well as priority boarding.
  • Wheels Up enables more people to fly private. They’ve teamed up with Costco to sell 12-month memberships to private aviation service Wheels Up for $17,499.99. That number may still hurt your eyes, but they’re throwing in some perks: a $3,500 Costco Shop Card & a $4,000 flight credit.

POLARIZATION: Tourism might have slowed, but the industry is still moving forward — this time with more targeted efforts. Tourism groups are promoting offers specifically targeted at those with quarantine fatigue looking to get out and use this time to (safely) explore.

  • Hawaii is offering free round trip tickets to Oahu to out-of-state remote workers who want to live & work there while contributing to the state’s economy. The program, known as “Movers and Shakas,” just requires you stay for at least 30 days and commit a few hours every week to a nonprofit.
  • Emirates Airline teamed up with Dubai Tourism and JW MArriott Marquis to offer free hotel stays for travelers to Dubai between now and February 28. The ‘Your first nights are on usoffer will get economy flyers a free one-night stay and business or first-class travelers two nights free.
  • Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ Chief Commercial Officer said, “Dubai remains one of the most attractive global destinations, and we see strong interest and steady growth in bookings to Dubai from across our network and particularly from Europe. With our latest campaign, we aim to reignite the magic of travel and put Dubai foremost in the minds of people around the world seeking a winter getaway.”

STICKINESS: Luggage brands are finding creative ways to make themselves memorable and top of mind now that we’re spending less time traveling and in airports (where many find inspiration for their next luggage set).

Travelpro is taking its reputation as the brand of choice for flight crews worldwide to the small screens with its feature in HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant. One of the most talked about shows this season, The Flight Attendant gives Travelpro the perfect platformto remind consumers of their credibility.

Travelpro knows that while most consumers are traveling by plane less, they are scratching that itch with the escapism of TV shows like The Flight Attendant. Queen’s Gambit showed us the renewed influence that TV shows have over consumer behavior. Travelpro aligning themselves with the latest TV binge is a smart bet.

SOCIAL IMPACT: Just because winter travel isn’t as easily accessible this year doesn’t mean you can’t explore and support your local businesses.

  • American Express and its subsidiary Resy are offering unique winter dining experiences that transport you elsewhere. You can dine outside in a yurt at a local restaurant, visit one of their Winter Patios or bring some of the nation’s top chefs into your home via delivered meals & sweet treats.
  • Airbnb teamed up with the Singapore Tourism Board to offer a range of unique, authentic online experiences hosted by localson the Airbnb Experiences platform. The collection will have a wide range of experiences for people to see and “visit” Singapore. Take a cooking class, enjoy a mixology experience or visit The Gardens by Bay’s Cloud Forest.

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M