Here's What the Future of Travel Looks Like in 2021, According to Industry Experts

Lauren Wicks
·17-min read
Photo credit: Flashpop - Getty Images
Photo credit: Flashpop - Getty Images

From Veranda

Travel is one of our favorite ways to get inspired for our next design ventures and become better global citizens of our beautiful world. While we’ve been able to turn to some incredible books, films, and virtual experiences to keep wanderlust at bay this year, there’s simply nothing like the real thing, and we hope to experience more of the globe very soon.

To date, some of our favorite countries, like England and France, are experiencing nationwide lockdowns due to Covid-19, while a few beloved domestic destinations, like San Francisco and New York City, seem to be on the edge of a dreaded second wave of the virus. While all of this may feel disheartening, industry experts do have higher hopes for 2021—especially if a vaccine can be approved and the number of cases begins to trend down this spring.

2020 has been the year of the road trip for those fortunate enough to travel anywhere, and we’ve also seen a rise in exclusive accommodations this year. Both travel trends will likely grow in popularity into next year, but what else may lie ahead for us globe-trotters? Our experts from across the hospitality industry share a few bright and encouraging ideas of what the new year could bring.

Ridesharing From 30,000 Feet

Photo credit: EMBRAER NORTH AMERICA
Photo credit: EMBRAER NORTH AMERICA

Carl Marbach is a veteran pilot who is changing the way we look at private air travel. His new company, SharedCharter, helps connect brokers, operators, and travelers to ensure a more cost-effective flight—and creates more opportunities for those seeking private jets to take to the skies. While he didn’t anticipate a world-altering health crisis to occur in 2020, Marbach expects that interest in private travel options will continue to trend, and that SharedCharter will help make it possible for more people.

“You can look at other peer-to-peer sites like Airbnb and Uber, and see their success, and I knew it was the right time for this,” Marbach says. “I’ve been in aviation a long time and have traveled on plenty of jets. I’ve noticed all the empty seats and know there is plenty of capacity not being used on these flights. If we could reduce the price of the charter, we could both increase the market share dramatically and make it worth doing for the cost. When you think about it, you get exactly the same convenience with three couples that you would with one.”

While the whole point of private travel, especially amidst a pandemic, may be to avoid boarding an aircraft with strangers, Marbach says there’s more to SharedCharter that makes it better than the other options on the market which only offer crowdsourcing, meaning travelers wouldn’t know who they are traveling with until their departure.

“The virus has made people think they may not want to sit on a plane with 200 people, much less sit in an airport with thousands, and we get that there may be people who don't even want to share a charter,” he says. “We’ve thought through that and know you can't just stick people together willy-nilly. You need to have some communication to chat and make sure they are compatible. You also need to see if they've been careful and what their personal health choices have been during this virus.”

When two parties get paired who want to take the same flight, SharedCharter facilitates the communication between them without giving away personal information so those details stay private unless they decide to travel together. And while reducing a flight from $18,000 per couple to $3,000 may still feel like a high price, Marbach says it’s important to consider all the amenities offered with private air travel that you wouldn’t even find in first-class, which may not cost that much less, depending on your circumstances.

“The benefits of charters start with the departure,” Marbach says. “Most people don’t know this, but while there are about 400 airports in the U.S. that commercial airlines go through, there are actually more than 12,000 airports in total. You are way closer to an airport than you think you are, and it’s a totally different experience, especially if you’re traveling to and from a more rural location.”

Marbach says you can forget frustrating parking facilities and the headache of going through TSA lines with charters, as you simply drive up, walk through a lounge to meet your crew who takes your luggage for you, and board the plane, all in about 15 minutes. Besides saving time, the comfort and luxuries of flying private are the most common draws. You can order any food or beverages ahead of time, you’ll likely always have reliable Wi-Fi, and your quarters will be just as comfortable or more so than flying first-class. Plus, you can have a car waiting for you on the tarmac to immediately take you to your final destination instead of toe-tapping through baggage claim and braving the Arrivals pick-up area. What’s not to love?

Our staff reported earlier this year that many travel companies are noticing a major uptick in the demand for private aviation options, and companies like SharedCharter may help make this seemingly aspirational form of transportation into an exciting reality for jetsetters in 2021. Plus, it offers ways to visit locales in 2021 that may not be as frequently offered by commercial airlines in the first half of the year.

Wellness As A Moral Imperative for the Industry

Photo credit: JAMES BAIGRIE
Photo credit: JAMES BAIGRIE

“It’s critical that we welcome the whole person and consider the whole person when creating an environment to ensure we meet the needs of our guests,” says Simon Marxer, Hyatt Wellbeing Council Chair & Miraval Director of Spa and Wellbeing. “I think that rapid acceleration of our awareness of this concept, as well as the increased expectations of our guests to have some sort of mention of wellbeing as a component of their stay, is a notable shift this year and speaks to what we will only see more of in the future.”

Marxer and his team recently opened a new Miraval resort spa destination in The Berkshires, and while it feels like a strange time to launch, he is genuinely excited to be able to teach more people how to better care for themselves by caring for them. He says that the purpose of hospitality is to care for people so they can be there best, and guests need that more than ever as they are arriving to their destinations with some extra built-in distress. Hyatt in particular is seeking to meet more people where they are with a hybrid of in-person and virtual experiences to help them find rejuvenation and restoration within their comfort zone. While he is seeing a significant interest in spas this year, his team is also working to ensure guests have a private experience, receive the utmost care, and their expectation of cleanliness is exceeded.

“If one does not participate in their own wellbeing journey, then there will be implications in how people feel and perform—with that new awareness, we are trying to meet people where they are and help them shift their mindsets.” Marxer says. “We experience life through our bodies, how they feel and move through our day, and it has an enormous impact on mental health. By caring for the physical body we are caring for our mental health and that is the genesis why so many people are seeking that spa experience right now.”

Marxer’s wellbeing team is enjoying the challenge of thinking outside the box when it comes to providing safe and desirable amenities and experiences in the midst of a pandemic and expects wellness to continue to trend as a top priority for travelers in 2021. They are creating a variety of outdoor experiences to help people better enjoy the benefits of nature, and in fact, see it as one of their most important responsibilities.

“In terms of seeing wellbeing as a priority, it will soon become a necessity and a moral imperative that we support our guests’ wellbeing, even if it is a shorter stay or something they may not initially identify as an intention for their visit,” Marxer says. “I think it's becoming more and more important for that need for wellbeing to be a component of the Hyatt experience and we will only continue to accelerate that.”

Ultra-Exclusive Experiences

Photo credit: BraunS - Getty Images
Photo credit: BraunS - Getty Images

Katinka Friis, PR and press manager for Visit Denmark, says her team is noticing a growing interest in single-residence accommodations, which allows people to enjoy the getaways they’ve been dreaming of while being almost as socially distant as if they were in their own home.

“Single-residency hotels are a part of an interesting tendency where travelers seek out more unique accommodation options,” Friis says. “Whether that is the luxury of The Darling or staying in a floating shelter in Copenhagen’s harbor, the single-residency accommodation adds an element of exclusivity to the travel experience. With places like The Darling, it can even give the feeling of living like a local in your own apartment.”

Our own team has noticed a significant increase in private and exclusive offerings from resorts around the world, be it opportunities for buy-outs, one-of-a kind private excursions, or promotions of stand-alone lodging options for those looking to enjoy a much-needed vacation while having the peace of mind that they are not exposing themselves to a large group of people who may not be abiding by the same preventative health measures. And we’re anticipating these exclusive experiences, destinations, and properties will only get hotter in 2021.

One of those properties is Oil Nut Bay in the British Virgin Islands. As the British territory's borders are opening to visitors come December 1, the resort is preparing for a busy 2021 with a wide variety of experiences to make this already-exclusive property even more accommodating. Oil Nut Bay was built with privacy in mind, making it an ideal post-coronavirus getaway with suites, villas, and even real estate opportunities to ensure you are getting the exclusive vacation you’re looking for with all of the luxurious amenities of a resort. The resort now offers month-long villa stays, representatives to assist with remote learning, private educational programs for kids, and even a “Zoom Room” equipped with tablets for those looking to mix business with pleasure. Private chefs, charters and excursions are also anticipated to be highly sought after on property and at other luxury destinations next year.

Architecture and Design As a Path to Wellness

Photo credit: Courtesy of Miraval
Photo credit: Courtesy of Miraval

“You can’t be at your best if you’re not at your best mentally or physically. We’re putting a lot of emphasis in the way we design our spaces so people feel physically comfortable,” says Tom Ito, principal architect and founder of Gensler’s hospitality division. “It’s about getting back to basics—not just what guests want, but what they need, and they need to feel good and healthy at their core. We were taking these things for granted before 2020 and it’s good to get back to them.”

Ito says a property’s outdoor offerings are critical for ensuring guests feel healthy and find that deeper connection to nature, which boosts one’s well being. Ito says a recent survey conducted by his firm found the biggest hesitation people have about booking at a hotel or resort is a fear of being around other people, and he is seeing a lot of people prioritize these short-term spaces that are flexible and adaptable to keep certain areas feeling more exclusive, personal, and ultimately, safe throughout a property. He says, that while he hopes this will just be for the immediate future, creating these cozier spaces for dining, fitness, or lodging in a hotel will likely improve a guest’s experience during their stay and will help the industry evolve into the new year.

“An awareness of spaces that are spiritually engaging and private for those quiet, reflective moments where one can rejuvenate will likely be a priority for us,” Ito says. “We will still need social spaces, but that combination of both will best serve us for the future.

The Future Impact of Cleanliness on Design

Photo credit: Artjafara - Getty Images
Photo credit: Artjafara - Getty Images

“There is this notion of cleanliness impacting design right now, and it's not just clean lines and simplicity—it’s also about fabrics, and there are whole new fabric lines coming out that are going to withstand the harsh cleaning protocols while being beautiful and nice to touch.” Ito says.

While he says there are no plans to redesign any of the firm’s impressive array of properties in expectation that things will turn to normal, they are thinking through approaches to design that emphasize health, safety, and rejuvenation for the body and mind.

“I think color is really important in designing spaces and looking at colors that make you feel good,” he says. “Every color has its own meaning, and we are certainly going to be looking at color and texture as a way to move forward in design. We have to also look at the increased awareness of being in a place that feels like your own and that you have control over, while still being a place to escape where you don’t have to touch a lot of things.”

Contactless check-in offerings, touchless door and faucet handles, along with new fabrics that can withstand heavy cleaning protocols are all sure to be the way of the future in the hospitality industry.

“The importance of designing beautiful spaces will never go away, and beauty helps people feel their best,” Ito says. “We are always looking at that notion through the lens of design, as it has an incredible impact on how a person feels and what their experience is like, and now we are especially looking at that through that with prioritization of a guest’s perception of cleanliness.”

Supporting Local

Photo credit: Courtesy of Post House
Photo credit: Courtesy of Post House

While opening a boutique hotel and tavern in the middle of a pandemic may sound terrifying, Ben and Kate Towill of Basic Projects in Charleston trusted their guts and pivoted their business model to ensure they were catering to their local neighborhood.

The couple’s latest venture, Post House, is a charming seven-room inn and tavern, located in an immaculately restored, iconic 1896 property at the center of Charleston’s Old Village. While logistically, they don’t have the headache of dealing with hundreds of people at a resort, they are getting creative with ways to keep guests socially distant without ruining the inn’s boutique, coastal vibe.

“Our job was really to figure out how to design this property and create a place that’s at the center of the Old Village scene for the next 20 to 30 years,” says Ben. “Everyone has memories at this place, whether they hosted a baby shower or anniversary party or went to a wedding there, and it’s such a special place, so we wanted to be really careful about breathing new life into with without removing the building’s charm and history.”

The pair says they were thankful to have had some unexpected extra time to think through all the facets of what a safe opening would look like. They were able to double the amount of outdoor seating space and go out into the street, which has made Post House an instant favorite spot for locals to enjoy the coastal air, a delicious meal, and satisfy their wanderlust by feeling like they are in a European city.

“Charleston is usually so inundated with tourists most of the time, so the biggest thing we have been focused on is our neighborhood and the locals, people who could walk down here and enjoy a meal, which has been a real blessing. It has been so great to connect with our regulars and neighbors, designing with them in mind. This is something you always want to do but it gets hard here with how strong the tourist season is here almost year-round.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Post House
Photo credit: Courtesy of Post House

Though Post House’s restaurant is currently not operating at full capacity, the couple feel it’s important to keep the layout of the restaurant unchanged, even setting the tables that will remain empty through the night to keep guests feeling like they are enjoying dinner on a Tuesday night instead of having the constant reminder that they are living in the middle of a pandemic. It’s those little touches that make an impact on their guest experience.

The Towills have also been using their new property as a way to give back to essential workers. On nights when the inn isn’t fully booked, they will give away a room to a local in the food and beverage industry who could use a night off and some extra care. It has all been a welcome reminder that we need to support each other locally and that a staycation or roadtrip may not have the allure and glamour of an international vacation, but they are just as essential for supporting our communities and finding true rest and rejuvenation for ourselves in these uncertain times. And no matter which countries are closed off to the U.S., we can rely on our local hospitality industry to give us the respite we need into the new year.

The Bottom Line

We asked all our insiders about if they think 2021 will really be “the year of travel,” or if it’s too soon to tell, and all of our experts feel optimistic about the year ahead, even if the first few months may require some extra patience.

“As Delta works to restart service in line with the lifting of travel restrictions, potential vaccine availability and the gradual return of demand, customers will see more trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights to top business and leisure destinations for the winter 2020-2021 and summer 2021 seasons.” says Maria Moraitakis, a corporate communications rep for Delta.

Marbach says regardless of our international travel options in 2021, or the lack thereof, one of the great things about this country is that people move around a lot and they need to get back to doing so when it feels safe. He says he’s always amazed by people who haven’t done much domestic travel, as America has such a wide variety of terrain and attractions from the Pacific Northwest to Las Vegas, to South Florida's great beach towns, and we need to take advantage of that.

“A lot of travel options will definitely depend on where we are wanting to visit, and there are some countries, especially in Asia, that are incredibly safe and hotels are doing really well over there right now,” says Ito. “Other countries are still on lockdown right now, but once that goes and the confidence is restored, people will be jumping on planes.”

Both Ito and Maraitakis note that airports and airplanes are actually some of the cleanest public spaces to be in these days, and recent studies have shown that flying presents a lower risk for Covid-19 than grocery shopping and dining out. Delta frequently updates a Where We’re Flying page to help educate travelers on where is currently open to travelers and when they will start opening flights back up in destinations that aren’t ready for vacationers quite yet.

While we must remain educated on the pandemic and what our ideal destinations are experiencing across the world, there is still hope for us to take an international vacation in 2021. For now, stay safe, follow the advice of health expert, and find ways to support your favorite local haunts—the special places that make your city and state uniquely its own. If you feel comfortable, book a few days away from your computer in a nearby locale that will offer some much needed R&R from this tumultuous year, because there's no need to wait until the new year to take some time for ourselves to reflect, rest, and rejuvenate.

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