If there's anything we've learned recently, it's that nothing is for certain – timelines very much included. But with coronavirus infections flattening around the world, there are positive signs that travel will slowly start beginning in the coming weeks. Here’s what to expect.

If you’re hoping that travel will return to normal this year, don’t hold your breath, experts say. That said, you will likely be able to vacation on a reduced basis later this year, if not by summer, some believe. Although not ideal, that’s better than the “do not travel” orders the world has endured since March.

Female doctor checking temperature at patient with infrared tool in hospital
Travelers will need to undergo advanced screenings © ozgurdonmaz / Getty Images

So what might a travel reopening look like?

“The travel industry is a huge part of the economic health of so many countries, so I imagine by the end of the summer tourism will begin again,” says Jorge Branco, director of the World Travelers Association. “I don’t think schedules will be as they were pre-coronavirus right away, but there will be options available to begin the transition.”

In other words, we won’t hit the “on” switch as quickly as we hit the “off” switch. Rather, governments, health experts and tourism providers will metaphorically install “dimmers” to gradually increase lifestyles and travel to normal levels.

Staycations and business travel to return first

Business travel will likely begin before consumer travel. According to the Global Business Travel Association, one-third of businesses expect to resume travel by the end of summer, with another third by the end of the year. (The rest simply don’t know or are waiting until 2021).

Suitcase or baggage with airport luggage trolley in the international airport.
Travel will increasingly be focused around staycactions and business trips © Mongkol Chuewong / Getty Images

In light of this, many governments are planning for an increase in domestic staycations in the coming months.

“We will develop domestic tourism,” announced French commissioner Thierry Breton this week. “Because some areas are more contaminated than others, they won’t reopen at the same speed as others.” Similarly, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, will tell Italians “to go on vacation in Italy” at some point after the country starts easing restrictions in May, according to local media reports.

To help overcome any trepidation, you can expect deep discounts on everything. “Airlines will have flights, and I hope cheaper options will exist to stimulate travel again,” Branco says. Still, for domestic travel to happen, there must be someplace to go.

"They need to have something to be able to do when they get there,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly of passengers. “Disney World needs to open back up. Restaurants need to open back up.” Although Disney hasn’t said when it will reopen its parks, nearly two-thirds of America is already making moves to reopen dining rooms and “non-essential” stores in May, according to the Associated Press.

International travel might not return until 2021

In wake of the coronavirus pandemic, international flight routes have been canceled by as much as 95% over the last two months. Coupled with the fact that airlines are only flying with about 5% of their normal passenger load, international travel will likely take much longer to open up.

International travel will be slow to arrive, experts say © Nhac Nguyen / AFP via Getty Images

In fact, Delta CEO Ed Bastion predicted last month that it could take the airline “two to three years” to return to the record number of flights and passengers it carried in 2019. Granted, that will include reduced domestic flights as well, but most experts agree that international travel will take much longer to recover, especially with so many closed or restrictive borders around the world.

“Some fear is always present when traveling abroad, but the current global fear has a different energy compared to the pre-coronavirus travel butterflies of transformative experiences,” Branco says. “Ultimately it's all opinion-based, and no one knows for a fact what will happen and when it will happen. We want to stay optimistic and continue providing our services when we are allowed to and when people overcome the initial fears to leave their home country again.”

In short, a return to travel normalcy will thankfully begin this summer. But sadly it will probably take years to fully recover, and international travel will be the slowest to rebound. But not until we get the “all clear” from the health officials and governments. “After that, I believe avid travelers will start exploring the world again,” Branco says.

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