The coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the world, including loss of life, illness, and economic hardship. So, is now really the best time to start planning your next vacation? According to plenty of experts, the answer is yes.
“Being able to think about a brighter future helps us to cope with the reality of now,” said John Tanzella, president and CEO of IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association. “Travelers are always thinking of their next trip, and there’s no reason to let go of those dreams just because we don’t have a date attached at the moment. Sharing travel experiences online is also a way of keeping us connected to the world while we’re isolated. Many LGBTQ+ people live in places where laws, culture, or family prevent them from being out, and travel can provide a sense of freedom and community connections.”
Thinking about future travel can also foster bonding moments with loved ones, according to Abraham Bravo, director of Travelisto, a customized tour operator based in London. “Researching new itineraries and planning a trip is a fantastic time to focus our minds on something positive and the uplifting that will eventually happen, and it gives us a sense of control over our lives,” he explained. “Another practical benefit of planning a future trip is that you can spend quality time researching together with family and friends, which is a perfect distraction from the only topic we hear in the media now.”
We may not be sure when routine travel will restart, but one thing is for sure: there will be lots of globetrotters itching to get back out and explore. Certain types of travel, and concerns, are likely to dominate where people go and what they do, according to Robert Sharp, owner of Out Adventures, an LGBTQ travel company that specializes in small-group tours and cruises. “Safety will surely be top of mind for LGBTQ+ travelers as the world returns to some form of normalcy,” he said. “Large cruises and events will see a decline in popularity, while small ship cruises, group tours, and independent travel will surge in popularity. We’ll find a sense of security when traveling in smaller numbers. Additionally, on a different note, it’s worth mentioning that destinations may temporarily impose entry restrictions on travelers from countries perceived to be hotspots for the virus,” Sharp warned, which could affect some vacation choices.
Tanzella predicts that, at the beginning of the return to normalcy, people will stay closer to home. “Domestic travel will blossom first,” he said. “There’s also a sense that social distancing is breeding renewed appreciation for nature and wide-open spaces, and it’s a way of easing back into travel. That could lead to a boom for national parks and more remote historical sites.”
Shawn Kirschenman, a travel advisor at Woodside Travel, a Seattle-based member of the upscale Virtuoso network, agrees about the appeal of nearby destinations. “We are thinking about places that are close,” he said. “For instance, in Seattle, Whidby Island is close and Vancouver is close. But what I’m hoping will happen is that people will want to continue traveling and visit the places that were hit hard. Italy was always one of our most popular destinations.”
The travel industry will witness a natural evolution and rebirth in the months ahead, according to Mario Paez, managing director and co-founder of Planetdwellers, a travel company in Darlinghurst, Australia. “The first trips will be short getaways to recharge the mind and feel free again,” he explained. “Then I think the planning will go back to normal and those that still can will resume their original plans and others will start looking at big getaways later in the year. I know some clients that have already written off 2020 as a ‘no-travel’ year and are planning for 2021 to do bigger, longer, and more expensive trips.”
Gregg Kaminsky, co-founder of R Family Vacations, a branch of Tzell Travel Group that specializes in LGBTQ family travel, expects a burst of planning by travelers who’ve been putting off celebrations. “For engaged couples who have had to delay a destination wedding or honeymoon, I think we will see a rush to rebook that once-in-a-lifetime trip,” he said. “Since extended families are now separated by sheltering in place, I also foresee a rise in multigeneration travel, as people realize what a gift it is to spend time together.”
Vincent Jones, founder and chief experience curator at Los Angeles-based Citizen Jones Travel agrees that family travel will be among the most important segments, and he also predicts a demand for sun and sand. “From my conversations with clients and friends, beach destinations are high on the list,” he said, “whether that beach be in Thailand or Mexico or Brazil or South Africa.”
WHERE THE DEALS ARE
Some travelers fantasize that they’ll be able to snap up amazing discounts in the coming weeks, as airlines, hotels, and destinations aim to lure formerly grounded globetrotters, but that won’t likely be the norm according to some industry observers.
“There is speculation that prices will not decrease as airlines and tour operators slowly ramp up operations in line with traveler confidence,” said Sharp. “There is a chance that it may be a more competitive market in which case prices may go down, but on the contrary, if this crisis last months or longer, which it likely will, there is a chance that consumer demand for flights and hotel rooms could outweigh supply during recovery, which in turn could mean higher prices as the industry attempts to pay off debt accumulated during the crisis.”
Bravo predicts that some of the regions hardest hit by coronavirus may provide the best travel deals. “The reality is that many of those destinations will come back with amazing deals and competitive promotions to regain visitors,” he explained. “Therefore, I can see places like Greece, France, Thailand and the Indian Ocean (Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius) remaining quite high in the demand for tours and tailor-made itineraries.”
A slew of rescheduled LGBTQ events could result in an especially busy fall and winter. “IGLTA has both a global pride calendar and an LGBTQ+ festivals and events calendar on our website, which are updated regularly as a resource for travelers,” noted Tanzella. “We’re certainly seeing many business-to-business events stacking up for fall, so it’s likely there will be a big wave of events once people feel it’s safe to congregate.”
Tanzanella predicts that LGBTQ travelers will be more likely to book through travel agencies and tour operators in the coming months. “Travel advisors will be even more important and will be standing by to provide clients with the best deals and package add-ons,” he said. “A lot of people learned hard lessons in this crisis about what can happen when your travel plans go awry and you don’t have anyone to advocate on your behalf.”
Jones, whose agency is an IGLTA member, stresses the need for a positive message in times like these. “It can’t be healthy to think about the negative aspects of this moment on a regular basis,” he says. “Moments of joy help bring clarity and focus that we all need to tackle some of the challenges of life under quarantine. Travel, for many, sparks joy. So think about it, talk about it, reminisce about it and, most important, plan it.”