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What Has – And Hasn’t – Changed About Travel

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Hear that? It’s the sound of suitcases across the country snapping open because adventure is calling once again. Okay, maybe not literally. But some Americans may be ready to pack up their travel gear once more and head on a vacation that’s a bit farther than the couch or the backyard. Travelers could soon be welcomed back to the road, sky and seas by an industry that was especially hard hit by the pandemic.

Wanderlust is still with us. The latter part of 2021 could be a busy time for vacations. For one, some of us may be feeling a little cooped up and ready for some time off. 63% of workers surveyed said they desperately need a vacation, according to data released by the U.S. Travel Association in January 2021. After a year where travel was mostly on hold, consumers have a lot of pent-up demand which could translate to travel planning, Stephen Grambling, a gaming, lodging and leisure analyst with Goldman Sachs Research, said in a January 2021 episode of The Daily Check-In. He also noted that bookings for the end of 2021 and early 2022 are starting to solidify. 

More time (or money) for travel. A new year didn’t magically end the pandemic. Covid-19 cases rose in certain places, there were new variants of the virus and increased restrictions in various parts of the country. But the Covid-19 vaccine is giving travelers hope that they can hit the road soon, or as NPR put it: This news has some people itching to travel again, as they finally see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Some people have accumulated savings that could help spur a consumption boom driven by virus-sensitive services, like travel, Goldman Sachs Research analysts recently noted. And workers may have more time off for vacations as some companies consider rolling over unused days from last year, according to CNBC. 

Travel that combines business and leisure – ‘bleisure’ travel – is expected to accelerate

Fees and how we fit travel in with work have changed. While most of us have been stuck at home, the travel industry has undergone some major changes – including flexibility around booking, more transparent cancellation policies and stricter cleaning protocols. And travel experts told The Washington Post that they think some of those changes are here to stay. 

Meanwhile, thanks to flexible work and school schedules, longer work-play getaways have become a travel trend, The Boston Globe noted. This blurring of business and leisure travel, or what Grambling and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs Research call ‘bleisure,’ is a trend that could gain traction as people begin traveling more again. It also could benefit segments of the travel industry – ‘bleisure’ trips tend to be longer in duration, which creates more demand for extended stays at houses, apartments or hotels, Grambling added. 

Strictly business travel may not stick around. With virtual meetings being the new normal, fewer people may be getting away for work. Last November, Bill Gates predicted that 50% of business travel would go away forever. And the McKinsey Global Institute had a more modest (but still significant) estimate that 20% of business travel wouldn’t come back, The Washington Post reported. This potential shift doesn’t just impact airlines and hotels, it can trickle down to affect other industries’ employment. “When a large convention or event is happening, the entire city is involved,” Tori Emerson Barnes, head of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, told The Wall Street Journal. “Whole downtown areas have been revitalized due to the meeting and events business, and they’ve really struggled this past year.”

So when can we expect to travel again? If you find yourself nostalgic for the days of jostling for luggage space on a plane or waking up early to get the best poolside lounge chair, there’s good news: The wait may be almost over for those of us who have been sticking close to home. Policies could change around mid-April or May as a result of vaccine delivery that enables more people to travel again, Grambling said. “It’ll be slow at first, so there’s not necessarily a flick of the light switch and all of a sudden everybody’s going out traveling again,” he said. By summer, he thinks the demand for travel will pick up further.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.