After what seems like an eternity of lockdowns and staycations, many of us are itching to get out and see the world again. Abi Millar asks the experts how travel is likely to open up in 2022 as the world tries to move to living with the virus, and looks at how you can travel safely

After what seems like an eternity of lockdowns and staycations, many of us are itching to get out and see the world again. Abi Millar asks the experts how travel is likely to open up in 2022 as the world tries to move to living with the virus, and looks at how you can travel safely

2020 was a bad year for wannabe globetrotters. As stay at home orders were issued across the globe, and ‘lockdown’ entered the lexicon, we all had to get used to the fact we weren’t going anywhere any time fast. That gap year backpacking through South America, or even just the family holiday to Spain, would need to be put on ice. Even as life has edged back towards normality, and restrictions on our social lives have eased, foreign travel has remained a complicated subject. On one hand, the vaccine rollout has been a huge success in many countries, meaning holidays abroad are no longer an absolute no-no. On the other hand, anyone wishing to travel in 2021 has had to navigate a confusing jumble of rules and restrictions.

In the UK, countries were placed on the ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ lists, with the colours indicating the degree of restrictions on travel. The government came under flak for regularly changing the rules, not to mention moving countries from one list to another with very little notice.

Notably, travellers in green-list Portugal faced a frantic scramble to the airport when they heard it was moving to the amber list. The rule change meant they would face an unexpected ten-day quarantine on their return, plus the cost of two PCR tests. For many people biding their time back home, this became something of a cautionary tale and a real impediment to booking a foreign holiday.

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on international travel,” says Sean Tipton, spokesperson for ABTA – The Travel Association. “At one stage, the British government said it was actually illegal for people to take a foreign holiday. Business was down by over 90% in 2020. And this year, even though we have been able to go on holiday since July, we’re running probably at about 25% of a normal year.”

People have been concerned, he says, about countries moving from the amber or green list on to the red list, which requires returning travellers to fork out upwards of £2,000 for a ‘quarantine hotel’. The costs of PCR tests, which can run into the hundreds, have also been prohibitive for many people.

The upshot is that the travel industry has had an extraordinarily tough couple of years. Many companies have gone bust, with others staying afloat thanks only to the furlough scheme and mass redundancies.

“In the UK, travel agents and tour operators haven’t had a penny of targeted assistance,” laments Tipton. “I think we’re going to see quite a few more travel companies going out of business before things get back to normal, because you can’t have two years of very little revenue and that have no impact at all.”

Other countries have had their own, similarly labyrinthine, system of restrictions, with many EU countries implementing their own country colour codes. American citizens have found it easier to visit Europe than the other way round, while Australia and New Zealand have achieved low rates of Covid-19 by effectively closing their borders.

According to a report by the Travel Analytics branch of UBS, each country has an average of 350 travel restrictions in place (relating to medical, mobility, nationality, and visa changes) with China, at 981, in first place.

Prospects for next year

The good news is that the situation could be set to turn around. While the travel industry at large isn’t predicting an instant recovery – travel is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2023 – 2022 should be a marked step up on 2021.

“For next year, things are much more positive,” says Tipton. “We’re seeing restrictions being lifted around the world rather than imposed, and, because of the vaccination programme, we’re actually seeing a higher level of booking for next year than you would normally see this far in advance. There is a lot of pent-up demand. People want to go overseas, they really do.”
Tom Hall, Editor-in-Chief of Lonely Planet UK, agrees with this assessment. He believes that throughout the pandemic, the appetite people have for adventure and new discoveries has very much remained in place.

“This is not an environment where people have forgotten about travel and decided to take a staycation in its absolute definition, i.e. by staying at home,” he says. “What we’ve seen is people want to travel in pretty much any which way they can. Obviously there’s been a huge amount of domestic travel, but also overseas travel wherever possible.”

As Lonely Planet’s data has shown, there was a surge in demand whenever a new country appeared on the UK green list – and not just for classic holiday destinations like the Balearic Islands, but also for places like Iceland with a rather more niche appeal.

We’re seeing restrictions being lifted around the world rather than imposed

“There’s been this informal back channel of people saying, alright, this has come on the list, where can we go?” says Hall. “That excitement is still there, albeit tempered by the additional logistical complications around travel. I’ve just been to Denmark and Germany, and spent quite a lot of time getting ready to come back. The need for tests, passenger locator forms, and checking the requirements, does give people some pause to think.”

In other words, travel may need to be a little more planned, a little less spontaneous, throughout the months ahead. On top of that, nobody can rule out a situation in which some new variant emerges, lockdowns are reintroduced, and holidays are once again declared illegal.

In the meantime, though, it is unlikely that people who really want to go abroad will be dissuaded. On 4 October, the UK scrapped its traffic light system with a view to making travel easier. Countries are now either consigned to the red list (travel discouraged) or the ‘rest of the world’ (no quarantines required). The testing requirements may end up being simplified as well.

“We do need to get through to Christmas without seeing any incidents of rules being changed at the last minute – that’s the absolute worst thing we’re seeing for bookings,” says Hall. “But it looks to me like there is a greater optimism about booking for next summer. I think the New Year is the point at which people will think, OK, I can see the other side of this now.”

Chosen destinations

In terms of where people are hoping to go, the desire for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ may initially be trumped by the wish to stay closer to home.

“When the pandemic first started, there was an expectation that there would be this kind of ‘revenge travel’ thing, with people saying, oh I’ve saved some money, the next chance I get I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro,” says Hall. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the initial return to travel is going to be characterised by people going to places that feel quite familiar.”

For travellers from the UK and Europe, this might mean holidaying elsewhere in Europe or, as of November, the US. Longer-haul destinations – especially those with low vaccination rates – are likely to take longer to come online.

“It’s partly that if you haven’t been away for two years, you’re probably quite keen to go somewhere you really like rather than trying a totally new destination,” says Tipton. “But the other issue for some of our members, who are specialist tour operators in places like South American and Africa, is that these countries are still on the UK red list. It’s clear how important overseas travel and tourism is to many countries’ economies, so hopefully we’ll start to see that changing.”

Jonny Cooper is the founder of Off the Map Travel, which offers bespoke adventure holiday packages across Scandinavia. He says demand has been strong since restrictions began to ease.

“I think Scandinavia is well suited for reopening up for travel, because it has a very low population density,” he says. “That gives people that feeling of space and helps them feel safe. People are wanting to get back to nature and reconnect with themselves, and alongside this they can get adventure with activities like snowmobiling in the winter.”

Coming out of the pandemic, he has noticed an uptick in demand for longer, more in-depth trips, as well as for multigenerational families looking to travel together. He has also witnessed a wide range of attitudes regarding what it means to travel responsibly – compounded by the patchwork of restrictions that remain in place.

“We are going to need to cater towards everyone’s feelings and attitudes around that as best we can,” he says. “I think there’s going to be an interesting picture developing over the next few months, but at the same time I think people do want to get back out there and start to experience the world again.”

How to prepare for next year’s holiday

Given our lack of certainty about the future course of the pandemic, travel insurance is likely to become more important than it has been in the past. Cooper feels holidaymakers want security above all else, and an understanding of what will happen if things change.

“Ultimately, I think it’s all about clarity and making sure the consumer is aware of what choices they have,” he says. “My key message would be to speak to travel experts and use their understanding and knowledge to help make decisions. As tour operators, we are there to help people find the best experience for them.”

Tipton suggests taking the opportunity to book a package holiday, as many tour operators will allow you to rebook at no cost in the event of a governmental U-turn.

“In the past, if you cancelled the trip, you would be charged the cancellation fee – simple as that, up to 100%,” he says. “This year, if the cancellation is caused by government restrictions, travel companies have stopped doing that. A lot of them are now saying you can rebook your flights for another destination or a later date.”

Hall thinks that while the logistics may seem more daunting than usual, anyone with the urge to travel ought to embrace their wanderlust.

“If you do, it will be a very strong reminder of what it is that you love about it,” he says. “The world is out there, it feels different to home, there are some wonderful experiences to be had. Re-engaging with that discovery and exploration is a brilliant thing for you as an individual, and it can be a really good thing for the places you visit as well. Yes, it can be a little more complicated, but it’s worth the effort.”

For many of us, the pandemic narrowed our horizons and made our worlds that little bit smaller. 2022 may well be a time of enlargement and expansion, as we venture beyond our own localities once again.

The desire for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ may initially be trumped by the wish to stay closer to home

“There’s been this informal back channel of people saying, alright, this has come on the list, where can we go?” says Hall. “That excitement is still there, albeit tempered by the additional logistical complications around travel. I’ve just been to Denmark and Germany, and spent quite a lot of time getting ready to come back. The need for tests, passenger locator forms, and checking the requirements, does give people some pause to think.”

In other words, travel may need to be a little more planned, a little less spontaneous, throughout the months ahead. On top of that, nobody can rule out a situation in which some new variant emerges, lockdowns are reintroduced, and holidays are once again declared illegal.

In the meantime, though, it is unlikely that people who really want to go abroad will be dissuaded. On 4 October, the UK scrapped its traffic light system with a view to making travel easier. Countries are now either consigned to the red list (travel discouraged) or the ‘rest of the world’ (no quarantines required). The testing requirements may end up being simplified as well.

“We do need to get through to Christmas without seeing any incidents of rules being changed at the last minute – that’s the absolute worst thing we’re seeing for bookings,” says Hall. “But it looks to me like there is a greater optimism about booking for next summer. I think the New Year is the point at which people will think, OK, I can see the other side of this now.”

Chosen destinations

In terms of where people are hoping to go, the desire for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ may initially be trumped by the wish to stay closer to home.

“When the pandemic first started, there was an expectation that there would be this kind of ‘revenge travel’ thing, with people saying, oh I’ve saved some money, the next chance I get I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro,” says Hall. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the initial return to travel is going to be characterised by people going to places that feel quite familiar.”

For travellers from the UK and Europe, this might mean holidaying elsewhere in Europe or, as of November, the US. Longer-haul destinations – especially those with low vaccination rates – are likely to take longer to come online.

“It’s partly that if you haven’t been away for two years, you’re probably quite keen to go somewhere you really like rather than trying a totally new destination,” says Tipton. “But the other issue for some of our members, who are specialist tour operators in places like South American and Africa, is that these countries are still on the UK red list. It’s clear how important overseas travel and tourism is to many countries’ economies, so hopefully we’ll start to see that changing.”

Jonny Cooper is the founder of Off the Map Travel, which offers bespoke adventure holiday packages across Scandinavia. He says demand has been strong since restrictions began to ease.

“I think Scandinavia is well suited for reopening up for travel, because it has a very low population density,” he says. “That gives people that feeling of space and helps them feel safe. People are wanting to get back to nature and reconnect with themselves, and alongside this they can get adventure with activities like snowmobiling in the winter.”

Coming out of the pandemic, he has noticed an uptick in demand for longer, more in-depth trips, as well as for multigenerational families looking to travel together. He has also witnessed a wide range of attitudes regarding what it means to travel responsibly – compounded by the patchwork of restrictions that remain in place.

“We are going to need to cater towards everyone’s feelings and attitudes around that as best we can,” he says. “I think there’s going to be an interesting picture developing over the next few months, but at the same time I think people do want to get back out there and start to experience the world again.”

How to prepare for next year’s holiday

Given our lack of certainty about the future course of the pandemic, travel insurance is likely to become more important than it has been in the past. Cooper feels holidaymakers want security above all else, and an understanding of what will happen if things change.

“Ultimately, I think it’s all about clarity and making sure the consumer is aware of what choices they have,” he says. “My key message would be to speak to travel experts and use their understanding and knowledge to help make decisions. As tour operators, we are there to help people find the best experience for them.”

Tipton suggests taking the opportunity to book a package holiday, as many tour operators will allow you to rebook at no cost in the event of a governmental U-turn.

“In the past, if you cancelled the trip, you would be charged the cancellation fee – simple as that, up to 100%,” he says. “This year, if the cancellation is caused by government restrictions, travel companies have stopped doing that. A lot of them are now saying you can rebook your flights for another destination or a later date.”

Hall thinks that while the logistics may seem more daunting than usual, anyone with the urge to travel ought to embrace their wanderlust.

“If you do, it will be a very strong reminder of what it is that you love about it,” he says. “The world is out there, it feels different to home, there are some wonderful experiences to be had. Re-engaging with that discovery and exploration is a brilliant thing for you as an individual, and it can be a really good thing for the places you visit as well. Yes, it can be a little more complicated, but it’s worth the effort.”

For many of us, the pandemic narrowed our horizons and made our worlds that little bit smaller. 2022 may well be a time of enlargement and expansion, as we venture beyond our own localities once again.

The desire for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ may initially be trumped by the wish to stay closer to home

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