The Year of the Travel Reset

From manic getaways to slower, more mindful travel
By Elaine Glusac

The coronavirus pandemic acted as a near complete brake on travel in 2020. While some people eventually learned how to continue to take vacations safely while living with the pathogen, most stayed home. In the lull, travel operators fought—and are continuing to fight—for their livelihoods.

But the pause gave everyone—consumers and suppliers—the opportunity to think about rebooting travel for the better, correcting overtourism, becoming more conscious of where the money goes, how communities benefit or don’t, and how to use the power of tourism—which accounted for more than 10% of the world economy pre-pandemic—to sustain cultures and environments and perhaps even leave them better off on the back end.

Ahead, the year 2021 may be the year that all travel becomes wellness travel. As home and work lives merged during the pandemic, work dominated—a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the average workday grew 48.5 minutes during the pandemic in 16 large metropolitan areas in North
America, Europe and the Middle East—prompting employers to emphasize self-care, beginning with vacations, even if taken at home.

Additionally, health assessments—including pre-arrival COVID-19 tests5—are becoming vital precursors to travel. Vaccine passports, recording virus tests and vaccinations, are already in development by industry groups and nonprofits.

From the manic travel of 2019—which was the ninth year of record-setting growth in travel, outpacing global economic expansion, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council—2021 will be the year of the travel reset, going slower, nearer and more mindfully.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it is how fragile our ecosystem is and how many things we take for granted,” wrote Jack Ezon, the founder of Embark Beyond, a luxury travel agency based in New York City, in his annual forecast. The pandemic-related grounding of 2020 forced travelers to look to nearer horizons in their neighborhoods and nearby regions. “We discovered our own countries, our own homes, our own families, and our true values. People took inventory of their priorities and reassessed their lifestyles.”

In many countries, the coronavirus vaccine rollout in December 2020 coincided with a spike in infections, turning travel optimism to travel tentativeness, in what many expect will be a continuing pattern in the fitful coming months. From advancing sustainability to immersing deeply in nature, travel will reset this year in many ways, including the following.

Making travel regenerative
In the previous fallow year of travel, many in the industry talked about building back better. For some, that meant practicing more sustainability, or balancing the impacts on communities and the environment. For others, the picture expanded to regenerative travel, or leaving a place better than you found it.

Regenerative Travel, a global collection of more than 40 regenerative resorts in 24 countries devoted to “positive social and environmental impact,” recently rolled out a benchmarking system for hotels to scale their progress toward regeneration. “The key indicators we look for in all of our hotels include locally sourced food, resource management, environmental and social initiatives, immersive activities that open up the
destination from a local’s perspective, and a ‘sense of place’ in its design that embodies the environment and destination it is located in,” said Amanda Ho, co-founder of the company.

Coming in 2022, north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, the over-fjord Svart lodge models regeneration with plans to be energy positive, producing more solar power than it needs to operate.

Despite such promising projects, regenerative travel remains more goal than achievement presently, as travelers reckon with the carbon footprints created by travel even in reaching the most sustainable or regenerative destinations. But it has sparked more awareness in travelers to ask questions about sustainability.

“It really says to travelers, travel mindfully or consciously, look for companies that are
sustainable and are going beyond to become regenerative,” said Anna Pollock, a researcher, travel consultant and founder of the website Conscious Travel. “On the business side, it’s how can we create a community of people engaged in
an economic activity that delivers so much more than it takes out of the system.”

Both Ho and Pollock shared their unique perspectives on how tourism will be reset and
future-proofed going forward in special one-onone interviews with Cathy Chon, managing partner, CatchOn, FINN Partners, during the 2020 GWS.

This is an excerpt from the “2021: The Year of the Travel Reset” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report.

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