As we enter a year of our collective worlds being turned upside down due to COVID-19, the arrival of a vaccine feels like the light at the end of the tunnel for many of us. And that absolutely extends to travel, with a few studies suggesting Americans are less concerned about the threat of COVID and ready to hit the roads and skies.
A report from J.D. Power’s Passenger View reveals 25 percent of the more than 1,500 people surveyed are “unconcerned” about possible COVID-19 exposure while traveling. Fifty-eight percent fell in the moderate to little concern categories, while 15 percent surveyed reported being extremely concerned.
While it could be assumed the COVID-19 vaccine might be the reason for easing fears, 40 percent of those surveyed planned to travel just as much, even before the vaccine was developed.
“Having the vaccine will certainly give me peace of mind, but it is not what I need to feel like I can confidently travel again,” Heidi Creed, of boutique travel agency Town & Country, told TripSavvy.
And though the travel bug has clearly hit, 42 percent still say they plan to wear a mask and social distance for the rest of 2021 and maybe even longer.
Similar sentiments were echoed in Global Rescue’s travel survey: 77 percent are “less or much less” concerned about travel for the last half of 2021, between July and December. The majority of those responding plan to travel domestically by June, and more than 50 percent of people plan to travel internationally between spring and winter. However, 29 percent are just saying no to international trips until 2022.
“During the pandemic, I've been continuing to travel domestically. However, the way that I travel has completely changed,” said Marissa Daily, who, like many surveyed by J.D. Power, continues to value sanitizing high touch point areas and mask-wearing.
The Virginia-based blogger has visited Denver, Pittsburgh, Ohio, and recently took a six-hour road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and has a trip planned to Puerto Rico.
Though she feels it absolutely possible to travel safely, even after the pandemic is "over," she still plans to travel with a mask and in small groups. "If anything, COVID [has] heightened my level of caution literally forever."
And the travel world is already starting to see the positive impact of travelers who might be cautious but still ready to book.
According to Vrbo, less than half of rentals are available for July in some of their most popular destinations.
"In years past, we've recommended that families book their summer vacations on Vrbo by late April to stay ahead of the curve, but this year, there are several reasons why families are eager and ready to book," Jeff Hurst, Vrbo's president, said in a statement. "These signs are telling us that families should start looking for the perfect vacation home now before the selection and available dates become more limited."
But there’s still hesitancy among some travelers.
“We haven’t booked any summer travel plans yet. 2020 taught us that with pandemics, anything can happen and things can change with the drop of a hat,” said Jennifer Fontaine, the managing editor of Outdoor Families Magazine. (Fontaine, along with her husband and daughter, has hiked more than 10,000 miles on four continents and hopes to plan a few camping trips this summer.)
“We’ll dip our toes in the water, feel the temperature, and slowly ease back into travel,” she said.
As the pandemic-era world of travel continues to change minute by minute, like many travelers, Creed needs the security of flexible booking.
“The most important thing is to know the booking terms and cancellation policy so you can book something to look forward to, but have peace of mind that if you're not able to go, you can cancel without significant penalties,” she said.
In addition to earlier bookings, the Vrbo families are planning longer trips, with 39 percent securing rentals that are at least a week-long, and some are even planning multiple vacations.
The longer stays and multiple bookings can be an effect of “revenge traveling” or people trying to make up for the lost time. Still, Creed, who took her family to Yosemite for the first time during the pandemic, feels travelers will take bucket list trips, but a bit slower and more mindfully.
“I would imagine for most travelers it won't be a matter of quantity but a matter of quality as we ease back into putting ourselves 'out there.'"