When can we travel again? Experts weigh in

When can we travel again? Experts weigh in

When can we travel again?

Maybe a summer road trip. Maybe Europe in fall. Maybe 2021.

Ask an expert when Americans are going to start hitting the road and flying freely again, and you’ll get a spectrum of answers. The optimists lean toward summer. Others think it will be longer.

You also hear a lot of theories about how the recovery will happen — road trips first, flights later — and how this pandemic may change the world of travel in the long term — lost little shops, high-priority hygiene.

But nobody really knows, because the virus is in charge.

Here, as the U.S. and Europe face some of the pandemic’s darkest days so far, is what some industry leaders — and one doctor — say you can expect.

WHAT’S IN THE CARDS FOR SUMMER?

A more or less normal summer of travel “can be in the cards, and I say that with some caution,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently on “CBS This Morning.”

Fauci said summer activities depended on continued success in flattening the virus’ rate of transmission — and could change rapidly in the event of a spike in infections.

A recent Harris Poll asked Americans how long after the curve flattens they would go to a hotel: “One fifth of Americans (21%) say they will stay in a hotel within a month,” with the figure rising to 41% within three months and 60% within six months.

Vacations to coastal destinations that are within driving distance are within the realm of summer travel possibilities, say experts. Getty Images

For airlines, the tipping point for most Americans to return to flying comes after four to six months. And more than half said they’d wait a year or more before going on a cruise, according to the poll.

Roger Dow, chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, thinks travel will rebound, just not as quickly and not all at once.

The rebound will not occur as quickly as the collapse, but as it does, OAG, which analyzes airline data, said domestic will come back first. But don’t get that bag packed just yet; OAG analysts think the beginning of the recovery will occur in two to three months.

A DRIVING TRIP TO A SMALL HOTEL IN JULY?

Alan X. Reay, president of the Irvine, Calif., hotel brokerage firm Atlas Hospitality, expects the recovery to start with short summer trips to small hotels.

If progress against the pandemic continues as some have forecast, Reay said, he’s guessing that leisure travelers will begin venturing out “sometime in July. The (hotel) properties that will recover the fastest are those that are located in drive-to markets. … You’re going to have people reluctant to travel by plane.”

The hotels that recover the fastest, Reay said, “are going to be the smaller hotels. Especially in the beach and coastal areas. The ones that are going to take the longest are the large meeting and resort hotels. … I think people will initially avoid these larger 200-300-room hotels.”

If there’s no recurrence of the coronavirus in fall or winter, Reay said he would expect a steady increase of leisure travel through 2021, as more vacationers and business people take to the air.

Meanwhile, “I bet these companies that rent out RVs and sleeper vans will do a fantastic business this summer,” Reay said.

This could be a great year for that RV camping getaway. Photo Getty Images

Two lasting changes Reay expects: Hotels will look to “more robotic kinds of cleaning,” and travelers “are going to be very, very mindful of how close they get to other people.”

If your trip is about family, you might go sooner.

Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, adviser to Airbnb and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, thinks “there will be a rolling process for when travel starts again based upon the intent and profile of the traveler.”

“Some kinds of experiences — weddings, family reunions, transformational travel — may snap back faster because it’s the promise of happiness and connection with people you know or will get to know deeply.”

Sometimes, “it takes a crisis for people to recognize that they want to change their path,” he said.

IS THIS THE YEAR OF THE CAR?

Travel is in our DNA, Clayton Reid, chief executive of travel industry analyst MMGY Global, wrote in a March 27 report about the future of travel after the crisis.

Reid predicted Americans would return to travel by taking shorter, closer-to-home trips. “Road trips have been on the rise for five straight years, and 2020 could well become the year of the car.” Those early travelers probably will head to outdoor destinations, such as campgrounds and mountain resort towns.

WHAT ABOUT LUXURY AND EUROPE?

Becky Powell, president of Protravel International, which has more than 1,000 travel agents in the U.S. and Britain, acknowledges the allure of close-to-home destinations.

“I think people are going to need their luxury resort fix before they are ready to board a plane,” she said in an email.

She also is seeing some people making reservations for luxury stays in Hawaii; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Tahiti; and some Caribbean sites.

Over water bungalows with steps into amazing green lagoon in Tahiti. Photo Getty Images

Mark Anderson of Adventure Vacations in La Jolla, Calif., specializes in trips to Paris. He thinks European travel may rebound before the end of 2020.

“Fall would be my best bet,” he said in an email. “Could be as early as August, as the entire continent of Europe has the month (off), and nothing will stop them from heading to the beach.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, crisis, Anderson offered trips to Paris for a bargain price of $399, including air, hotel and breakfast. They sold well for months.

“That taught me a number of lessons, among them that in the hierarchy of human needs, along with food, shelter, etc., that people need to travel,” Anderson said.



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