The Receding Horizon of Travel’s Return


In recent weeks, however, Mr. Antonelle said that anxious would-be travelers with previously booked trips have pushed those to next year. He expects them to travel when a vaccine is widely available.

“People, early on, seemed OK with the cancellations because they understood the severity of the pandemic,” Mr. Antonelle said. “They still understand the volatility of this pandemic, but many people who have been working remotely, home-schooling and in quarantine are really looking forward to traveling.”

Mr. Barnes of Intrepid expects travelers to keep booking shorter domestic trips closer to home over the next 18 months, but when confidence in international travel is restored, he said demand will return for expensive, international “bucket list” trips like seeing the Northern Lights, gorilla trekking in Rwanda and climbing Mount Everest.


Across Africa, where the tourism industry was the second-fastest growing in the world before the pandemic, there is little domestic tourism to offset the loss of international dollars until those bucket-list travelers arrive. Worries are also emerging that uncertain timing of the vaccine distribution there — expected to come months after a rollout in other regions — will hamper the industry’s rebound.


“These mass vaccinations we have been hearing about will first come to the U.S. and Europe,” said George Gituku, the owner of Sandrage Safaris in Kenya. “By the time they come to Africa it will be a while, and this wait will be very challenging for all of us in the safari and travel business.”

COVAX, an international program set up by the World Health Organization, and the public-private health partnership Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are raising funds to insure distribution of the vaccines to developing countries. They aim to prevent a repeat of 2010, when African countries received the swine flu vaccine a year after the West.

For short-term survival, Sandrage and other safari companies have rescheduled bookings into 2021, but tour operators worry that many of the hotels and lodges, which were reserved using customer deposits, will not be able to hold out for that long.

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