This year has been a strange one, and there is something about ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – as seen at the end of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian in 1979 – that suits our present tension. "When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle" is a nice slice of optimism.
Of course, optimism has been in short supply for travellers and the travel industry in recent months. But what of up-and-coming 2021? A new year? Well yes, obviously. A clean slate? Probably not, if we are realistic. A reason to be hopeful of both an improvement to life in general and the chances of a proper getaway to foreign shores? More than you may think.
"We saw some green shoots when the travel corridors to the Maldives and the Canaries were restored recently," says Erin Johnson of luxury beach-break experts Sovereign (sovereign.com).
This note of positivity is echoed by Michelle Ventre at hiking and biking specialists Headwater (headwater.com). "The revived travel corridors had also stimulated bookings in Europe. I expect this to continue."
This belief in travel’s durability reaches up to the most gilded corners of the industry. "I am very confident that leisure travel will go back to a robust position, particularly in the luxury sector," says James Riley, group chief executive of Mandarin Oriental (mandarinoriental.com). The five-star accommodation brand has big plans, including the delayed opening of a property in Madrid (a renovation of the city’s belle-epoque Ritz hotel in Retiro). "People live their lives to have experiences, and to travel," Riley adds.
These two hotel unveilings will cater to expensive tastes, but they are not unique in an industry where signs of recovery are visible.
But if there is a sense of expectation in some areas of the holiday industry, what of holidaymakers themselves? Heather Green of Italy aficionados Citalia (citalia.com) believes travellers will be rewarded. "Next year will be a good time to visit traditionally busy destinations such as Venice, Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast without the usual crowds," she says. "Visitor numbers will probably remain below pre-Covid levels for most of 2021 – and there will be savings to be had as everyone tries to entice tourists back. I expect demand for city breaks in Italy to be high as soon as restrictions lift. A long weekend in Florence or Rome may be what we all need when we are free to travel again."
The benefits may also extend to straightforward beach breaks. "We know from past shocks to the market that bargains drive recovery,’ says Phil Salcedo of travel deals comparison site HolidayPirates (holidaypirates.com). ‘Dubai was at the top of our search data recently because there are amazing deals available."
While sunshine getaways will certainly be popular, so will trips that have health and space in mind. "There is definitely going to be a trend towards holidays that naturally allow social distancing, and consumers will be thinking about travel from a perspective of staying safe," says Michelle Ventre of Headwater. "With people looking more at their fitness during lockdown, I predict there will be a move towards outdoors adventure."
Stella Photi of Wellbeing Escapes (wellbeingescapes.com) agrees: "Over the past few months, a lot of people have recognised how important health is. We’ve had inquiries from people who want to have greater control of their lives; who want to learn what they can do to have stronger immunity."
This includes being in solid mental shape. If weight loss and detox were the important requirements, now the impetus has shifted towards emotional health. "Prospective clients say they want to get away to manage stress. If they also manage to shed a few pounds, great. But that isn’t a key objective," she says.
Industry voices are in unison that airport testing and a vaccine will be crucial cogs in the recovery.
Each of the holidays for next year detailed is predicated on these pandemic-controlling measures – and on a relative normality of open borders and safe passage. But there is nothing wrong, as 2021 looms, with the instinct to "purse your lips and whistle".
Spring 2021 cannot come soon enough for One&Only. Until now, the luxury-travel group has confined its five-star finesse to Asia, Africa, Australia and Mexico. But it will make its European debut in March, eight months later than planned, when its Portonovi resort (oneandonlyresorts.com/portonovi) opens on the Montenegrin coast at Herceg Novi (its July 2020 due date having gone back to October, then the new year). Amenities will include a Giorgio Locatelli restaurant.
Just a little to the south, another portion of the European shoreline will be introducing a welcome element of glamour in 2021. The Epirus region of mainland Greece is big on craggy scenery and rustic peace, yet relatively short on sophisticated accommodation. Step forward the MarBella Elix (marbellacollection.gr/marbella-elix) – which will open outside the pretty coastal town of Parga on April 30.
While the pandemic has stomped across the diaries of the planet’s Olympians, it has yet to throw a spanner into the scrum that is one of rugby union’s biggest extravaganzas – the quadrennial British and Irish Lions expedition into foreign fields. South Africa is due to welcome these travelling try-scorers in 2021, for a tour that will run from July 3 to August 7, ending with three Test matches against the home nation (two in Johannesburg, one in Cape Town). Packages are still on sale via the official operator (www.lionstour.com). These range from a lightning dash to watch the first Test to an 18-night Platinum odyssey to see all three that also goes on safari to Kruger National Park. Packages come with guarantees of a full refund if the whole event is cancelled.
Offering an element of social distancing that no other holiday can really match – a self-contained unit; your own pool – villa breaks have assumed extra value in the Covid-19 era. "We are already seeing high demand for 2021," says Victoria Hooberman of Scott Williams. "We are getting inquiries from families longing to reunite with grandparents, and groups of friends keen to holiday together."
The company has a wealth of properties in southern Europe, including in Istria, the north-west edge of Croatia, which tends to be quieter than other parts of the country. The three-bedroom Villa Angelo, near Motovun, can be rented from £3,820 per week, flights extra (scottwilliams.co.uk).
Next year will witness a milestone in the Maldives as well – the 10th anniversary of Baa Atoll’s designation as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, where coral and marine life are protected. Not that this means you cannot enjoy it as a tourist. A week’s all-inclusive stay at the atoll’s five-star Finolhu resort, flying from Gatwick on September 4, costs £3,443 per person through British Airways Holidays (ba.com/holidays).
If one of the after-effects of Covid-19 is that you want to avoid too much human contact, Namibia may be a welcome answer to your travel prayers. With just 7.6 people per square mile, it is the second least densely populated nation on earth (eclipsed only by Mongolia). Its scenery is all the more striking for its semi-emptiness. Windows On The Wild (windowsonthewild.com) is offering a 16-day Classic Namibia Self-Drive trip that explores the likes of the Naukluft Mountains and Skeleton Coast.
Next year will see the realm of Machu Picchu and mountaintops celebrate its bicentenary (bicentenariodelperu.pe) – the party pinned to July 28, an exact 200 years after it declared its independence from Spain. The festivities will, though, tick along for much of the 12 months, making 2021 an ideal time to visit a country that is much more than its endlessly photographed Inca citadel. Last Frontiers (lastfrontiers.com) is offering an 11-day Northern Peru itinerary that flits to less-seen places such as Trujillo, Cajamarca and Chachapoyas, while still offering plenty of epic history.
The only continent not to have been affected by Covid-19 beckons with an icy finger next year, when a total solar eclipse will throw a brief shroud over Antarctica on December 4 2021 – and several cruise operators will head south to witness the show. These include Aurora Expeditions (auroraexpeditions.co.uk), which has a 16-day voyage from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula and back planned for November 23-December 8. Prices start at $18,795 per person, flights extra.
There is always an element of escapism to the Nordic lands – and March should provide sights to assuage all ills. Geomagnetic activity tends to be enhanced around the equinoxes – which makes them ideal time-frames for the Northern Lights. The Aurora Zone (theaurorazone.com) offers three-night Wilderness Weekends at Nellim in Arctic Finland. A getaway (March 18-21) timed to coincide with the spring equinox (March 20) costs from £1,095 per person, with flights. If this sounds too soon, the company has also released dates and prices for the following winter season. An identical package from December 16-19, 2021 will cost from £1,430 per person.
Should you have come to the same conclusion – that it is better to go further for a greater amount of time – few countries feel as distant or elusive as Mongolia. Elusiveness is also the big idea for its snow leopard, but that hasn’t stopped Wildlife Worldwide (wildlifeworldwide.com) adding a new tour – Cats of Mountain and Steppe – to its 2021 brochure. This small-group trip (for a maximum of 12 people) will play hide and seek with Panthera uncia in the Altai Mountains and Hustai National Park, and can be booked as a 13-day package (with flights) from £6,995 per person. Departures on August 13 and 26, 2021.
The Capital Region
Families who have endured months apart during lockdown(s) could make up for lost time in the United States next year. Bon Voyage (bon-voyage.co.uk) has started selling a multi-generational road-trip through Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. The 13-day Family Fun in the Capital Region tour is partly aimed at children, with potential stops at the International Spy Museum in the capital, the Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, and by the sea at Virginia Beach. A May half-term break costs from £1,655 per person, based on four adults and two children, including flights and minivan hire.
The smallest national chunk of the Himalayas also falls into the ‘under the radar’ bracket – which may make 2021 a year to visit. Perhaps to coincide with Tshechu – the religious festival that finds form in costumed dances and the gathering of remote communities. The elevated town of Paro stages one of the biggest incarnations – and will burst into colour between March 21 and 24. The spectacle can be glimpsed in comfort via Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com), which offers an eight-night Highlights of Bhutan tour from pounds 4,000 per person, with flights – including three nights at the Naksel Boutique Hotel in Paro.
The Daily Telegraph
- 5 reasons why a staycation is all you need
- Lockdown inspirations: The travel books you should be reading now
- Travel quiz for adults and kids: ancient history