PBS travel host Darley Newman is an ubiquitous and welcome presence on the network, thanks to her popular show, “Travels with Darley,” which can also be watched on a free app, Journy. The current pandemic has made her insights and observations more valuable than ever and the travel guru has been enlisted to host an online event with Smithsonian Associates on October 21 (tickets here) on Best Destinations for 2021.
I caught up with her recently in anticipation of this Zoom event to ask her about her travel predictions for 2021.
Everett Potter: Will the trend for vacation in National Parks and Forests continue to Rise?
Darley Newman: Yes. As they’ve begun to reopen, we’ve seen a spike in visitation to national parks and forests. These are great places for social distancing, unplugging and taking in nature, making them relatively COVID-friendly outings. Plus, many are located within driving distance from major urban areas, making them accessible to large populations. Travel to these destinations with continue to rise with people working to tout their “59 Club” status for visiting all 59 full-fledged national park sites. Now, that will win you bragging rights!
Potter: What other vacation options have seen an uptick that will continue into 2021?
Newman: Spa, wellness vacations and ‘Clean & Green’ will trend. Many of us were wiping down hotel room remote controls and airline seat trays before, but even more travelers will be looking for hotels, airlines and hospitality groups to take the lead and showcase their cleaning and sanitization practices, as well as sustainability as climate change becomes an increasingly hot topic. Smart destinations will promote these practices not only on their websites, but through advertisements, articles and other media in order to gain consumer confidence and loyalty. Vacations that make you feel good and promote health and wellness will trend. People will be seeking out these resorts and destinations and specifically looking for smaller, boutique offerings that are off the beaten path experiences. Vacation rentals promoting COVID cleaning practices will buzz through word of mouth referrals and online claims and will continue draw in more bookings and may be able to charge a bit more to compensate for their efforts.
Potter: How about staying local?
Newman: I think local vacations and staycations will rise, as will local pride of place. Travelers will continue to vacation closer to home, both discovering and re-discovering destinations within shorter drives. Tourism boards and convention and visitors’ bureaus, which are already beginning to re-emerge and market drive time escapes, will continue these efforts. Travelers will come to understand that adventure is literally available right on their back doorstep and come to value and volunteer more in their local community and closer to home, a silver lining to the pandemic.
Potter: What’s the most unexpected trend that you think will happen in travel in 2021?
Newman: Well, I think that touchless tech and even robots will become normal. Years ago when the Japanese began replacing more and more staff members with robots, many consumers, as well experts in the hospitality industry, shuddered. New trends in robots cleaning rooms and welcoming guests, QR code menus, mobile room keys and other touchless solutions will become both sought after and welcomed.
Potter: On a more practical level, what about flexible booking practices and insurance sales.
Newman: If you’ve booked a flight recently, you may have noticed that you can much more easily make changes to your booking, even right up to the takeoff. This will continue for flights and vacations, as the travel industry works to make it easy for people to travel. Travelers will also seek out insurance policies to hold their vacation’s value in case they need to make changes and will actually read the fine print to make sure they know how and if they can make changes. Travelers will invest in “cancel for any reason” policies for big ticket vacations.
Potter: How about travel agent and advisors?
Newman: Travel advisors will gain more traction with travelers, who seek to have expertise on how and where they can travel, reassurance for their vacations and ways to get their money back should the need arise.
Potter: What do you see in terms of international travel for Americans?
Newman: COVD-19 successful destinations will trend upwards. Destinations like Greece and South Korea, who did particularly well in keeping COVID numbers down, will be sought after vacation spots… IF we are able to reach them.
Potter: The RV craze shows no sign of stopping.
Newman: RVs will continue to be rad. According to sources RV’s increased by 650% in May, and will continue to trend upwards as people seek to vacation while staying more isolated for health and safety reasons. TV shows may debut featuring tricked out RVs, vans and other self-contained methods of travel, including brands hopping into the mix to showcase these areas and adventures. You may even see more of these episodes from yours truly!
Potter: There’s always been a show-off aspect to travel, especially on social media. But given Covid-19, do you thing that will continue?
Newman: I think that special and less visited destinations will become more and more coveted! Before, seasoned travelers may have touted or even bragged about their trip to a new, less discovered locale. Moving forward, these regular travelers may tighten their referral networks, sharing information about where to go in a “whisper” so as not to let too many people know about these places.
Potter: We’re all a bit tired of virtual travel, but what do you think 2021 holds for virtual experiences?
Newman: Virtual will continue to trend. Virtual travel experiences, TV shows, online events and educational opportunities will continue to be popular and rise in popularity as people seek to continue to enrich their lives, connect with others and learn about the world safely. Wary travelers and those who have compromised health or with friends and family with health issues will travel less and to less risky locations.