When Will Travel Return to Normal?
Two excellent travel writers asked this question of their readers this week. The responses were predictable. “There is a new normal.” “Demand is so high we are back to 2019 levels”, “Travel is back and travelers are more interested in sustainable metrics, ecologically, economically, and culturally.” Bravo, so it is all over I ask?
We have no parallels for predictions. Traveler sentiment is impossible to gauge beyond day-to-day figures. The 2008 recession and even 9/11 offer no model for an almost post-pandemic travel recovery. What we do know is that demand for travel that is on the books right now is at all-time highs, while inventory for both land and cruise trips is limited. We know travel of all types is more difficult. Yes, it is harder to travel, but the traveling public is adjusting, most with the excellent help of expert travel advisors.
The flip side is that travelers like me are salivating at the thought of visiting Egypt when the pharaonic sites along the Nile are empty. Paris without the bustle of tourists is even more alluring and heavens, could I possibly be welcome along the emptier streets of Venice? I am ready to take my chances with the new roadblocks and it seems many agree.
Cruising: A Dramatic Shift in Perceptions
The most unpredicted travel impact of our long 16-month winter of discontent? Cruising pivoted from being perceived as the riskiest form of travel to being acknowledged as one of the safest. In March 2020 as the Diamond Princess was docked in Japan, the world watched the pandemic unfold in horror. I hesitate to use the word again, but #petridish was trending. Until we realized that it wasn’t just the ship environment that spread the virus, but casual contact anywhere and everywhere.
Articles announced the end of the era of unrestrained cruising growth. Economists began to measure survival timelines for each cruise line. Not to diminish the cash burn and difficulties the cruise lines faced and continue to balance, but I see a bright, albeit not the old “normal” future. Safety measures that all cruise lines have introduced, and will introduce, both voluntarily and to meet CDC requirements for US ports, are the strictest in the entire travel industry. You can argue about the vaccine mandates, but you can’t argue that the statistics prove a 95% vaccinated ship with regular testing will be safer than anywhere on land, except maybe isolating in your home and we have all done enough of that. We have just heard that some ships will be sailing without a vaccine mandate but with additional safety protocols for the unvaccinated. While we have learned there are no guarantees with COVID, the very controlled environment at sea offers many assurances you just cannot achieve on a land tour.
An Appropriate Normal
As sales reopened for booking cruises, the demand was beyond everyone’s expectations. Cruise itineraries will still be announced and rerouted as we watch COVID evolve, but the advantage of being able to move your hardware gives a clear advantage to the cruise lines. The most important travel predictor is consumer sentiment and for now, optimism is high and they are voting with their pocketbooks. Not a normal or new normal but an appropriate normal for our almost post-pandemic times. Buckle up, and this time I mean the seatbelt on the airplane. I am hitting the road again.