The question that seems to be on many people’s minds these days: When will travel return to normal? But that’s the wrong question. Instead, we should ask: Will travel change post-pandemic? The short answer is, yes. Travel will  be purposeful, but the way we perceive it will be different.

To understand the future, let’s look back to December 2019 — Americans scheduled more than 79 million flights and holiday travel broke historic records. But less than weeks later, people began to learn about coronavirus and the world ultimately shutdown from this pandemic while scientists raced to develop a vaccine.

It has been a rough year and the virus is still ravaging parts of the world. Americans are hopeful that the right tools are in place to battle Covid-19.

So, yea, our idea of travel has changed, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Here are just a few ways.

Why we travel will change post-pandemic.

In the future travel will be used to deepen personal relationships. And that means creating shared experiences — something I’ve always advocated.

Because the business community has not yet made a significant move to embrace meeting yet (which often influences leisure), personal travel will drive motivations. And playing on our emotions by encouraging pure exuberance for getaways has worked. But, is that the right thing to do?

Most people haven’t had an opportunity to leave their home towns and cites for more than a year. So they are easily lured by those states and other locations that promote themselves as open for business but with little regard for health and safety. I personally hope that this isn’t sustained.

Reasons for leisure travel will change post-pandemic.

Leisure travel will eventually become even more popular than it was pre-pandemic. Before the arrival of Covid-19, leisure accounted for nearly 80 percent of all travel. I predict it will increase and drive as much as 90 percent until 2024. And as I reconsider my own reasons, leisure travel post-pandemic will include:

  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Visiting small towns, historic locations and museums
  • Experiencing cultural sites and national parks
  • Returning to nightclubs and casinos — yes!
  • Tasting local cuisine and fine dining
  • Hiring guides to gain personalized, local perspectives
  • Hanging out in the sun, if that’s your desire

Where we travel will change post-pandemic.

Domestic travel will outpace international travel for a while, likely through 2022. And I’m not surprised that airline seats on domestic flights are packed again. Depending on the experience you want, the U.S. offers many places to go even during the pandemic.

But don’t rule out the future appeal for international travel with Americans post-pandemic. We will fill up seats on international flights as countries take reasonable steps to open up and experiences become normalized. International travel is definitely on the minds of Americans — which achieved a historic high of nearly 45 million flight departures in 2019 before the pandemic.

Nearly half of those who travel internationally by plane go to Western Europe (my favorite “go-to” as well): The UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are among the most popular. These countries appeal to the reasons why we like to travel. And I’m ready to go back.

Various international destinations are trying to leverage the pandemic as travel disruptors and gain new visitors and dollars. They are offering easier entry protocols. I’ll skip the related ethical questions. Yet many fear the very real possibility that travel post-pandemic will go to the other extreme and require numerous Covid-19 tests every step they take.

To be sure, the local spots within three hours will gain in popularity — long weekend road trips (I’m planning for one of those this summer). It’s easy to get in your car, drive the highway and arrive — often in less time than it takes to find your way to boarding a plane. It’s socially distanced and you can count on your own cleaning standards.

(Airports: You should be on notice that clean facilities and easy logistics will help your travel reputation post-pandemic as well.)

Covid-19 vaccination will change how we travel post-pandemic.

There’s much discussion today about the inevitability of having a post-pandemic system that confirms travelers do not actively carry and transmit Covid-19 within countries and around the world. There’s also much debate on both sides — those in favor of a passport and those who have individual choice and privacy concerns.

Today, domestic U.S. travel relies heavily on the honor system, including various orders for quarantining around testing periods, etc. Individual states are chiming in with political commentary. International countries are frequently asking for a clean Covid-19 test before, during and prior to returning home. The U.S. wants you to get a Covid-19 test when you return and/or wait for a required number of days before socializing.

For the longer term, the U.S., European Union (they already have a Digital Green Certificate which verifies full vaccination), the World Health Organization and others are already planning for a streamlined system of documentation and standards.

The fact that we are asking this question should give insight about what to expect from travel post-pandemic. And I’m curious if we may be asked to share digital certificates for domestic U.S. travel in the future as well.

Airline mileage points will change post-pandemic.

It’s safe to say that the incentives will remain after Covid-19: Timelines will be extended, achieving next level status will be easier and bonus offers will seem attractive.

Every airline and hotel will make their points programs and their rewards seem quite attractive. After all, few people have had the opportunity to earn points through travel since February 2020.

However, what’s missing from the conversation is that, to say the least, fewer will earn points through business travel. And that’s how many people earn greater status – through the volume of airline segments and upgraded passenger seats that they get when traveling for work (not to mention how business travelers preferred to extend their stays in the past to appreciate local hospitality). Get ready to earn those miles by spending dollars on credit cards that offer rewards points post-pandemic.

What we wear to travel will change post-pandemic.

Masks have been part of daily apparel in Asia pre-pandemic for a long time. And I believe that they are here to optionally stay on the faces of Americans and Europeans, including when they travel post-pandemic. Some people will eventually be able to freely make the choice to wear it or not based on the health requirements of local destinations. The question is: Will people continue to judge those who wear or not wear masks?

Regardless of the Covid-19 impact, the reasons why we travel constantly changes. I’m confident that it will change for the better post-pandemic.