THIS MUCH is certain: travel in 2021 will be easier than in 2020. More flights will take off and land. A greater number of countries will welcome visitors. There will be fewer restrictions. But those gains will come, as statisticians like to say, from a very low base. After a year in which flights came to a near-complete standstill, many countries closed their borders and those that still allowed visitors imposed onerous restrictions, even the slightest loosening will be a welcome improvement.

The signs are encouraging. By September 2020, 115 of the 217 destinations tracked by the UN World Tourism Organisation had loosened their travel restrictions. Global hotel-occupancy rates more than doubled from a low of 22% in April to 47% in August. And travellers are keen to get going. According to Skyscanner, a price-comparison website, there is plenty of pent-up demand. Searches on the website spike every time Britain adds a country to its quarantine-exempt list. In China, where covid-19 cases are few, domestic air-travel approached pre-pandemic levels by August.

Three big changes will define travel in 2021. The first is frequency and length. Short breaks across borders will remain difficult. As they open, most countries will impose two-week quarantines on incoming and returning travellers, turning a three-day holiday into a 31-day ordeal. As a result, trips will be fewer and longer. Thailand, which depended on tourism for more than 20% of its GDP in 2019, is keen to admit tourists. But the condition is that they stay for at least 90 days. More countries will follow suit.

A second change is distance. Domestic tourism will boom in 2021. Big destination countries are trying to make up for the shortfall in international visitors by encouraging citizens to holiday at home. In America, airlines are betting on Hawaii. Singapore is giving its citizens S$100 ($75) to spend on local ­attractions. Even Airbnb’s home page encourages its customers to “go near”. Holidaymakers will not be difficult to persuade. Going abroad, although possible, will remain a hassle: countless forms, the need for covid-19 tests and the risk of being stranded will all discourage foreign travel.

The third change will be in the nature of the holiday. As trips get fewer and longer, those who can work from home will find an attractive alternative in working from somewhere-a-lot-nicer-than-home, and with fewer restrictions on movements. Call it lockdown arbitrage. Many of these changes will persist long after a vaccine has been widely deployed. Travellers will get used to longer trips, more flexibility and combining work with leisure. International tourism will eventually recover to its 2019 levels. But, starting in 2021, it will look rather different.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition of The World in 2021 under the headline “On the road again”

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