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Karno’s 2021 Travel Predictions - Well, maybe… here’s what could happen

We did not get it right a year ago in predicting the pandemic and collapse of world travel in 2020. Not that the signs were not there, but it would have been very difficult to see the scope of the world health crisis.

So, with no rose-colored glasses, here are our 2021 travel marketing predictions. I hope we do better than last year!

Vaccine or not, things won’t go back to the way they were:

Many destinations are still clinging to the old Motel 6 slogan, “We’ll leave the lights on.” Meaning, many still think one fine day the world will return to the old normal. But by now, the clear truth is it never will. Even with vaccines, masks and distancing it’s here for a while. And, the tsunami of COVID-19 wiped out sectors. High end eateries closed, small inns shuttered, big hotels paused their growth, and the entire business travel segment moved online. The big airlines have made 50-70% route reductions, while the rental car industry is facing bankruptcy. So, no, they won’t leave the light on…But, for you Poseidon Adventure fans out there, there will be morning after. Just the new day will be different. The smart destinations will research the new normal, rebuild their brands, and adapt. The smart ones will push ahead to meet a new travel market. But those who offer “Come back when the world is better” messaging will be in for a surprise.

No more air deals:

Discount carriers have been shocked to the core, but with lower operating costs, and more leisure than business traffic, they will survive. In fact, their smaller aircraft may prove to be an advantage. But, look for smaller airports to suffer, as the bigger players drop fees to lure back travel. With a smaller footprint, discount airlines can follow the traffic, but with fewer passengers, the crazy cheap deals may be gone too. Look for transatlantic airfares to rise, and big carriers to drop routes. They grew too big too fast, and now they will need to slim down. Look for more mergers, and business failures.

As for air travel, the massive security lines will be shorter, but there will be more hoops to jump through. Now be sure to get your vaccine passport and your recent COVID-19 test. Be prepared for a slower boarding process, as well a medical screening. If it took 2 hours to go from curb to gate before, now it might take 3-4. And, as airlines cut flights and routes, the aircraft may be fuller than you had hoped.

Drive time:

This may help the struggling rental car industry, as they may capture those who wish to drive, and not fly. The road trip is already the new thing. And, look for overnight trains with private compartments to make a return in Europe and in the US, especially if the Biden Administration increases funding to Amtrak.

Cities may drop down the list:

There was the time that we all wanted to see London. But now, many might opt for Wales, or Cornwall. Avoiding the crowds and rush of cities may lead to a move to explore more of the countryside. So, regions like Tuscany, rural New England, and the Alentejo may beat out former big draws such as Boston, Rome and Lisbon. Expect the rural, open and full of hikes and vistas to beat out the crowded squares and museums that once topped lists.

Products are the new travel bridge:

From wines to tiles, pottery and fine crafts-locally made products will not only be a motivator for travel, they will be a differentiator. And destinations that have few products will suffer. After all, if you are going to face the expense and hassle of travel, why go to a place that has no character - and look for food, wine and produce to help fill the travel void during lockdowns and travel outages.


While those who love a cruise and may be ready to set sail, the era of the great cruise ships maybe be behind us. Look for this industry to try to reinvent itself. Or fade…

The chains survive, as do the little guys:

The big hotel chains can offer contact free check in and check out- and that is important. They can also offer strong cleanings standards, and powerful apps. Smaller independent properties can offer a smaller size, more intimate experience. Plus, with the new hassle and fears of travel,whowants a corporate, one-size-fits all hotel? What’s for sure, is that the industry is going to shrink and suffer — with bigger hotels aimed at the business and meetings market going through a very rough period.

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