Few industries were hit harder and more immediately by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic than travel and hospitality. The first months of the global health crisis were marked by canceled flights, empty hotel rooms, and docked cruise ships as would-be travelers quarantined at home. Vacationers nixed their plans. Business flyers learned the finer points of teleconferencing. Families celebrated holidays over Zoom. In 2020, everything we knew and assumed about travel changed.
Today, the world is opening back up for business. People are donning masks and flying. Hotel rooms and Airbnbs are gradually working back to pre-pandemic levels. College kids are spring breaking…not that they ever really stopped. But now, nobody’s giving them a hard time for it. So travel is back.
But it’s a little bit different these days. As we’ve all come to recognize over these two very trying years, some things may return to business as usual, but some things may well be forever changed. Today, and likely into the near future, travel will reflect this balance—a partial return to normalcy and acclimation to a “new normal.” I know we’re all sick of hearing this phrase, but it is inescapably apt.
If you’ve already spent enough time navigating the pandemic and you’d rather just get your trip on, check out these 10 Ways to Travel for Free and Maybe Even Get Paid to Do It.
If you’re curious about exactly what travel might look like these days, check out these 10 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Travel…
1. Car Rentals Cost More
Let’s get the bad news out of the way right up front. The early days of the pandemic absolutely hammered the car rental business. In fact, some companies were hit so hard that they sold off significant portions of their dormant rental fleets just to stay afloat. So when people started going places again, the demand on car rentals quickly outpaced the available supply.
The situation has been compounded by numerous interruptions in the global supply chain since, leaving us with a collective shortage of available cars for rental. Obviously, the impact on pricing hasn’t been great for consumers. Even as we move into a more fulsome recovery in the summer of 2022, it seems likely that the car rental business will continue to hit speed bumps along the way. According to The Points Guy, “Prices for rental cars have continued to surge this year, data from Hopper, a popular online travel agency, has revealed. At the start of the year, the U.S. national average rental car rate was $56.12 per day, and it has since peaked at $85.87 per day in March. If the prices continue to trend this way, we could be in for a very expensive year for rental cars.”
If you plan on renting a car for a trip, it’s best to do so with some advanced notice if possible. Rental dealerships in your vicinity, or at your destination, could be very short on supply if you wait too long.
2. Hotels Cost Less
Hopefully, you can make up for the higher cost on your car rental with more affordable lodging. While car rental companies sold off their fleets, hotel chains were forced to sit on top of their empty rooms and wait for brighter days. As those brighter days arrive, the hospitality industry is working hard to return to previous heights.
This is actually great news for travelers as hoteliers drop their prices to incentivize booking. It goes without saying that the price of a hotel room cratered at the height of the pandemic’s first phase. But even in recovery, prices remain well below pre-pandemic rates. According to Nerdwallet, “hotel prices dropped significantly and, for the most part, stayed low. Prices fell from an average of $255 per night in 2019 to $186 in 2020, then edged back up to $194 in 2021.”
Full recovery both from the pandemic and the current mixed bag of economic indicators may bring these prices up to those earlier levels, and beyond. But for now, there are good deals to be had on hotel rooms and short-term rentals.
3. Booking with Shorter Lead Times May Actually Help
Interestingly, when it comes to the best deals on hotel rooms, it isn’t always the early bird who gets the worm. Sometimes, it’s the bird that hovers in wait, and swoops in only when all the more proactive birds have already eaten. Technically, I guess that would be a vulture. Nerdwallet says to be a vulture.
Nerdwallet, reports that those who made hotel bookings within 15 days of check-in enjoyed considerably higher savings than those who booked four months out. This is another pattern that could shift rapidly, but it reflects the mutual interest of today’s traveler and the hotel chains that are aggressively working to fill up their empty spaces. While the latter are increasingly prepared to hand out discounts for last-minute bookings, the former have also shown a great interest in locking in last minute plans.
According to BBC News, “Trip.com Group recently conducted research with Google which showed that customers are booking on much shorter lead-times than previously: 80% of bookings in the new world are within a fortnight of departure, as opposed to 36 days before departure in pre-Covid-19 times.”
This is almost certainly a reflection of the experiences we’ve all endured over the past two years. Evidence suggests circumstances can change rapidly. Last-minute excursions seem far more likely to actually happen than long-term plans. Will we still feel this way as the pandemic moves into the rearview mirror? Hard to say, but for now, last-minute planning has become more commonplace and, for the moment, more affordable.
4. Travel Insurance Is More Important Than Ever
Speaking of uncertainty, travel insurance has become an increasingly essential part of travel planning. Purchasing travel insurance can protect you from a wide range of possible risks incurred during travel from something as minor as lost luggage or petty theft to something as major as an emergency last minute cancellation or an accident or illness requiring immediate medical attention far away from home. The pandemic has most certainly magnified the risk of these latter two occurrences.
For your own protection, it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance for any trip, especially one that you’re planning to take more than a few months from now. As we have learned, the more time between now and that trip, the more likely that something unforeseen—like exposure to COVID—could derail that trip.
Not only that, but you may actually be required to purchase travel insurance to visit certain destinations. For instance, according to USA Today, Thailand—which has already limited visitors to only those from low-risk countries—requires all travelers to purchase an insurance policy covering up to $100,000 in medical expenses. So before you choose a destination, make sure you know exactly what’s required of you.
And regardless of what’s required, you may want to consider travel insurance. USA Today notes that, in light of everything we’ve experienced and learned during the pandemic, “it’s especially important for travelers to make sure they understand their risks, exposures and insurance coverage before they take a trip.”
5. Travel Agents Are Making a Comeback
The road to a web-dominated society left many casualties in its wake. The travel agency sector was among them. As online comparison shopping travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline emerged, travelers gained far greater autonomy in securing the best bundled deals on flights, lodging and more. But after two decades of decline, travel agents may be among the unlikely beneficiaries of this new era in travel.
According to the New York Times, the reason that travel agents are making a comeback is that travel has become increasingly complicated during this pandemic era. Rules and restrictions can change rapidly, as can safety concerns and travel advisories. As a result, more prospective travelers are enlisting the support of professionals to navigate these conditions. The Times quotes James Ferarra, president of 60,000-member global travel adviser network InteleTravel, who says that “We had two days in March where we broke records for the number of transactions booked in a single day…Our overall business is up 35 percent, not from 2020, which was an aberration, but from 2019, which was the highest year we’d ever had.”
While many travel-related businesses are battling their way back to pre-pandemic levels, the travel agency business actually has its sights set a little higher, perhaps even on the heady stratosphere it occupied in the days before the total mainstream proliferation of high speed internet.
6. Companies Are Offering More Flexible Travel Packages
As noted in the sections above on travel insurance and travel agents, uncertainty is among the biggest concerns facing prospective travelers. The good news is that many businesses in the hospitality industry are coming to recognize this concern and provide greater assurances against uncertainty. For instance, many lodging options and event ticketers are making free cancellation more widely available, or providing longer grace periods to allow for cancellation.
Also increasingly common are flexible flight bookings, which may allow the ticket holder to alter their departure and return times even after purchasing a flight. If you are considering travel but you have concerns about what the not-too-distant future might bring, seek out some of these more flexible options. And if you’re not sure where to look, see the section above regarding the growing value of travel agents in today’s travel environment.
7. Working on Vacation Is More Common
One of the big stories of the pandemic was the massive movement of white collar employees to remote working arrangements. For many, this was a temporary response to necessary office closures and quarantine rules. However, a large number of employees and companies discovered that there are quite a few cost benefits in this arrangement, including diminished commuting, rental, mortgage, and energy consumption costs. It also means that more employees than ever before may actually be inclined to take what the trendsetters are calling “workcations.”
A new segment of workers now has the freedom to take the office with them anywhere they go. And after being cooped up for two years, some of us may choose to travel just for the change of scenery. Even if you don’t have the freedom to take two weeks off from your job, you may choose to spend two weeks doing your job from an exotic foreign city, a tropical island, or a ski resort. The best part is that, come tax time, you may be able to write off some of the expenses you incur while working on the road.
8. Expect Fewer Business Travelers in the Airport
Ironically, while the number of workers traveling just for the fun of it may go up, the number of people traveling out of necessity may continue to go down. The pandemic caused the general suspension of non-essential business travel. In the time since, many businesses have fully adjusted to doing this type of business remotely.
From face-to-face negotiations and boardroom meetings to expert panel discussions and even industry conferences, the last two years have seen countless innovations in remote business connectivity. While many businesses have been eager to return to in-person gatherings, it may be with a bit more discretion about where and when to engage in business travel. Indeed, the costs are certainly a great deal lower, a fact which has not been lost on business leaders in this time of skyrocketing fuel prices.
USA Today points out that “‘A percentage of business travel will never return as companies realize that employees can be as productive virtually as they are holding in-person meetings,’ predicts Deborah Friedland, the practice leader of hospitality advisory services for EisnerAmper, a business advisory firm.” While this may save precious dollars for businesses in a state of recovery, USA Today does warn that everyday consumers may actually feel some pinch because of it. According to their findings, “corporate travel has traditionally subsidized cheap airline tickets. So the price of flying will probably rise.”
9. You Can Expect More Automated Experiences
If you’re looking for a big silver lining for travelers, consider that many aspects of air travel have become increasingly automated. Air travel has a well-earned reputation of being a big hassle where customer service takes a back seat to pretty much every other priority. But the need to limit physical human contact during the pandemic required most airports and airlines to come up with efficient, machine-mediated ways of managing check-in, baggage check, security screening, boarding, and more.
And the truth is, few travelers are complaining that they miss the human touch. According to USA Today, these aren’t just changes necessitated by the pandemic. They are innovations that have helped to move the air travel industry into a more efficient space. USA Today predicts that “These changes are permanent. The contactless credit card readers and self-check-in kiosks are here to stay.”
10. Sustainable Travel Is Increasingly Popular
If you’re looking for another positive takeaway, the global pandemic has heightened awareness of the interconnectedness of the world. There may be a greater practical and ethical appreciation for the reality that that which impacts one nation impacts all nations. Indeed, while this is a lesson that extends from our experiences in a pandemic shared by citizens all over the world, it certainly applies to our ecological predicament as well.
Evidence suggests travelers are increasingly aware of this fact, and are making greater efforts to plan travel with climate change and sustainability in mind. According to Today, “People are…looking for eco-friendly vacations. Research from Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2021 found that 61% of respondents said the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.”
If your biggest travel concern is how to make your trip personally sustainable, there may actually be a few ways to save on travel just by taking on the right credit card offer. Whether you’re looking for frequent flier miles, rebates on gas, cash back on purchases, or additional benefits related to your globetrotting ambitions, take a look at The Best Credit Cards for International Travel.