Jaguar-watching in Brazil’s wetlands. Sailing in style around far-flung Indonesian islands. Stepping back in time in Uzbekistan. And also rediscovering Singapore.
At the dawn of 2021, travel industry players here and globally reveal their post-vaccine holiday plans to The Straits Times.
They also picture what leisure travel will look like this year. On the horizon are big-sky vacations away from cities, flying less but staying longer in one or two places, and travel bubbles with responsible countries.
But 2020 was not a total wipe-out for the inventive industry. The travel leaders profiled here, from both international and home-grown enterprises, extracted lessons from the pandemic that will fortify business this year.
From creating virtual tours that bring the world to globetrotters to a new determination to put customers first after processing tens of millions of refunds, they hope to prevail in 2021 with a new vitality and a bounce-back in business.
Jose Cortes, 55, co-founder of A2A Safaris, a specialist in bespoke luxury safaris, in Cape Town
My first flight out: Stuck in South Africa during the pandemic, I am keen to go to another continent and Brazil is calling again.
Its Pantanal wetlands are by far the best place in Latin America to see big cats like jaguars, ocelots and pumas, andalso bizarre animals such as giant armadillos. Colourful bird life abounds. I tell everyone this is the Okavango Delta of Latin America.
Other places in the pipeline include Chad, where its sandstone Ennedi Plateau is arguably the most beautiful corner of the Sahara Desert.
Another is the Central African Republic, to just hang out at the bai. These forest clearings full of life are the best places to see western lowland gorillas, forest elephants and buffalo.
Jose Cortes and his wife Kitty in Great Karoo, South Africa, in November 2020.
What travel will look like in 2021: City trips may take longer to bounce back because of social distancing rules, and the hard-hit cities may feel depressing to some.
But destinations where people can get wide open spaces, big skies, fresh air and wind in their faces will open up sooner. Think beach holidays, mountain destinations and, of course, safaris.
Safari bookings for summer this year are already choc-a-bloc as everyone had to move his or her summer 2020 trips to this year, so it is already very difficult to get space at the top safari lodges. Many city-slicker friends who never considered going on safari are now expressing interest.
A lot of the trips we do are also more bucket-list items. With all the soul-searching and fear that another pandemic could hit the globe again, there is a sense that it is better to tick off these bucket-list items once the window reopens before it closes again.
Jane Sun, early 50s, CEO of Trip.com, a leading global online travel agency, in Shanghai
My first flight out: Singapore is most definitely high on my list when travel resumes.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit many times pre- pandemic and I’ve always been struck by the warmth and generosity of Singaporeans, the beautiful greenery around the island and the amazing food.
I cannot wait to visit my favourite spots like Lau Pa Sat, Jewel Changi Airport, Mount Faber and Gardens by the Bay as well as uncover new and exciting hidden gems while rediscovering top-class attractions such as the Night Safari and Sentosa.
I also hope to visit Mount Everest in the near future.
Trip.com CEO Jane Sun would like to revisit Singapore after the pandemic.
What travel will look like in 2021: There is huge pent-up demand for international leisure travel. When the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble was first announced, we saw search volume for flights between the two cities grow by 300 per cent, followed by a 200 per cent increase in Singapore hotel searches.
While the travel bubble has been delayed – and rightly so – demand among travellers from both Singapore and Hong Kong remains strong.
This is just one of the many examples we have seen and we believe there will be a sharp increase in travel for the first holiday season following the widespread roll-out of vaccinations.
This may be preceded by more extensive domestic travel recoveries around the world, with incremental amounts of business and individual travel. But I am very optimistic about larger-scale travel movements during holiday seasons to come.
Tamara Lohan, 40s, CEO of Mr & Mrs Smith, a boutique-hotel booking service, in London
My first flight out: I’m really craving some true escapism: remote, far-flung and tropical – contrary to how I’ve spent my lockdowns in dreary London.
Ibiza in Spain is a place very close to my heart – I was brought up there – so a long, lazy lunch at the new Nobu hotel in Ibiza Bay is on the list.
Despite such a tough year, we still saw some new hotel openings such as Castello di Reschio in Tuscany. I can’t wait to see the hotel in a restored castle up close.
Although I feel like there’s lost time to make up for and there are so many places to explore, I also want to be conscious in the choices I’m making.
Unwinding at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives would be amazing. I just love its ethos on wellness, community and sustainability. Real seclusion in one of its beachfront villas with just jungle, sand and sea to gaze at would be just the tonic.
Mr & Mrs Smith CEO Tamara Lohan with her children, Tom and Ally, during a holiday in Portugal in August 2020.
What travel will look like in 2021: I don’t think anyone wants to be too bold in terms of predictions for this year, but to see hotels getting back to what they do best will be a positive enough result.
The optimist in me thinks we’ll definitely see some lasting positive changes, though – a more conscious consumer, hopefully, who will consider flying less but staying longer, maybe by twinning city, coastal or countryside stays, or embracing road trips, or travelling more by train.
We’re all much more familiar with remote working, so blending work and leisure has become easier.
We’ve become far more aware of nature too, so this enhanced connection will likely be at the heart of more rural stays, and considerate city hotels will look to foster a community atmosphere that benefits both guests and their neighbourhoods at large.
Fazal Bahardeen, 57, founder and CEO of CrescentRating, a halal travel consultancy, in Singapore
My first flight out: My company was partnering Uzbekistan Tourism to host a halal tourism forum in mid-March last year and I was planning to take my family along. Then everything unravelled with the pandemic.
I have been to Uzbekistan a few times, but not my family. Its appeal lies in its very rich Muslim heritage and amazing architecture. The region produced some of the world’s leading scholars, thinkers and scientists during Islam’s golden age.
Although I have been to many countries, I have not visited South America. Long-haul travel may still not be ideal this year, but I want to do it when possible.
CrescentRating founder and CEO Fazal Bahardeen in Buhkara, Uzbekistan, in February 2019.
What travel will look like in 2021: On the future of travel, we developed some scenarios in our Mastercard-CrescentRating Travel Readiness Report that we released in July last year.
We simulated three recovery paths for Asean travel. The “plausible scenario” is looking realistic, currently. In this scenario, we projected that the Asean travel market will recover to 71 per cent of 2019 levels by mid-2022.
We also plotted a “pessimistic scenario” where Asean travel will recover only to 31 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of next year.
Even with the vaccinations being available, how travel will evolve this year remains very uncertain.
Teng Wee, 31, owner of Dunia Baru, a luxury phinisi sailing in Southeast Asia, in Singapore
My first flight out: Dunia Baru’s refit was completed in November and I am looking forward to getting back on board for an extended adventure. The journey through the Indonesian archipelago from Maumere to Raja Ampat via the Banda Islands is spectacular. The drift diving there is exciting, filled with oceanic mantas and hammerheads, and the remoteness of the place makes the experience very special.
Another place I’d love to head back to is the Dolomites in Italy. The mountain ranges are dramatic and beautiful. I’m hoping to discover some off-piste skiing there this winter.
We usually stay at the Hotel Rosa Alpina, a family-run hotel with an excellent restaurant.
Dunia Baru owner Teng Wee is looking forward to getting back on board for an extended adventure.
What travel will look like in 2021: Leisure travel will change. Weekend trips will be out of the question as border restrictions continue to evolve. Travellers will be focused on doing trips that are longer and more immersive – those on their bucket list, for instance.
Suen Tat Yam, 35, founder and CEO of tour operator Woopa Travels, in Singapore
My first flight out: The first place – or, technically, two places – I’ll head to is Sichuan, China and Hong Kong.
I got married last year and had intended to hold the wedding banquet in my wife’s home town, a city in Sichuan near Chengdu. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible due to the pandemic.
My parents are from China. I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Singapore when I was seven.
So, my wife had the idea of travelling across China in a caravan for our honeymoon. Although that plan has been disrupted, it’s still a trip I’d like to take with her in the future.
Woopa Travels founder and CEO Suen Tat Yam with his wife on a World Dream cruise in January 2020.
What travel will look like in 2021: I think leisure travel will continue to open up gradually for Singapore in the form of travel bubbles with countries that are handling the pandemic better.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.