Qantas begins the new year today with optimism for the prospects of vaccination and pre-flight COVID-19 testing to help to re-invigorate international travel.

The airline has now re-opened bookings across its entire overseas network from July 1, 2021. 

As vaccines start rolling out in earnest, with UK health authorities commencing vaccination with Oxford-AstraZeneca today, many aspirational travellers are feeling a new sense of hope about travel in 2021.

So, today I consider what will international travel look like in 2021?

Remote and Purposeful

There will be a continuing trend towards remote travel and travel with purpose.  This stems from a combination of the desire to protect ourselves from a partly-vaccinated world, along with the experience of 2020 teaching us a few valuable life-lessons about consumption, community and sustainability.

Remote, purposeful travel experiences will cost more.  High-end, specialty, and small-scale travel operators will benefit.

While 2020 was the demise of the travel agent, 2021 sees their rebirth.  Travel professionals will be relied upon like never before, to provide expertise, to coordinate, and to manage our tricky and spontaneous international travel arrangements.

Nomadic Luxury Travel

As digital nomads hit the international flightpaths, we will see a rise in private air travel, lifestyle flight experiences, glamping road trips and island takeovers.   

Hello Antarctica. 

Hola to the work-from-paradise destinations of Mauritius, Bermuda, Barbados and Anguilla who are offering year-long digital nomad visas. Georgia, Dubai, Estonia and Croatia are also capitalising on the demand for extended ‘bleisure’ visas.

Booking your own exclusive tropical bubble in destinations such as the Maldives and the Seychelles is on the rise. The ‘wandering hotel ‘ is a promising and innovative concept- ephemeral luxurious and nomadic hotels that take over an existing property such as a luxurious estate for a season.  

Slow Travel

As we shift gently towards valuing slower living, slower travel is on the cards. Road trips, self-guided travel experiences, and in particular, luxury motorhome and glamping, are all heavily featured in aspirational Pinterest travel boards.

Adventure and Outdoor Experiences

Bring on vast and sparse open spaces, beach sunrises, desert sunsets, dramatic peaks and waterfalls. Natural paradise destinations such as New Zealand, Canada, Antarctica, and Australia will be popular destinations for those seeking adventures such as mountain biking, diving, kayaking, fishing, and hiking.  

The diversity of destination, culture, history, experience and adventure ensures Japan as a hot ticket for travellers, particularly as they strive towards hosting the re-scheduled 2020 Olympic Games. 

Impacts of COVID-19

The popularity of a destination will be precisely affected by how well the country or the region controls coronavirus-from prevention measures to how outbreaks are managed. Safe socially distant travel is not only good for the traveller, but also for the community. Proven Covid-safe business practices in tourism and hospitality will help measure a destinations’ desirability for travel in the future.

What does this mean for us as a Destination?

2020’s experience has given us all plenty of time and space to reflect upon the ways we each move around the planet, and how travellers perceive and visit our own destination.

I’m inclined to heavily weight the value of the growing niche in tourism as a destination for the Philantourist, a traveller who chooses a holiday to support the destination.

This is because we are nestled between two incredibly desirable and ever-threatened World Heritage areas, with an incredible economic reliance on tourism and hospitality, and a desperate need to re-invigorate the marketing of our destination.

In 2021, lets make it our mission to surprise and to delight our imminent emotionally weary travellers with genuine and meaningful small and local experiences that help them travel for good-for them, for us, and for our destination.

We can do this by providing experiences that connect.

To truly engage with our Indigenous peoples and cultures.

To support grassroots and sustainable local businesses in delivering paddock to plate, and sea to serve dining experiences.

To provide exceptional reef and rainforest adventures.

And to provide opportunities to contribute to the betterment of our World Heritage environments through interpretation and education.

This needs to be supported by continuing to stay abreast of managing safety measures for limiting the spread of  COVID-19, and to insist on best practice in managing response to outbreaks effectively.

Here’s to the horizon….


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Hugh Spencer
2 years ago

Dear Editor, you seem to be obsessed with the coconut motif. Such a shame, as that motif is common to tropical destinations all around the world. We have so many beautiful native trees that are part of our Wet Tropics World Heritage environment, that we appear to be so anxious to promote – but we are doing a remarkably poor job of showcasing them. No wonder the Council is very reluctant to follow its coconut management plan, as it appears that the majority of folk are convinced that coconuts are the only true tropical palm (but are really an invasive introduced species) and that the tourists come here because of them. Goebbels would be proud of the propaganda success!