Spectacular view from the top of Bawdens Highland | Caroline Mongrain
By Robin Esrock
After enduring the challenges of 2020 (a lost year we’d probably all like to forget), 2021 saw the world of travel slowly get back on its feet, sputtering forward in fits and starts, aided in no small part by the miracle of vaccines, and the willingness of travellers to keep themselves – and others – safe. Where do we go from here? Below are several trends that are expected to have an increasing impact in the evolving world of tourism.
We now know that Covid is an airborne virus. Outdoor travel has always been popular, but it’s definitely picked up new adherents since the pandemic began. People who had never been camping before pitched tents and discovered what many of us had known all along: being outdoors is an experience well worth repeating! Multi-day bike trips, along with week-long hikes, kayak or canoe trips, suddenly appeal to everyone, including those more accustomed to the usual hotel resort getaway. Innovations like electric bikes, curated self-guided itineraries, and professionally guided outdoor adventures also make the outdoors a lot more accessible and realistic. Travellers young and old have realized that you don’t need to be a hardcore backcountry explorer to truly immerse yourself in nature. Catering to enthusiastic new adherents, outdoor travel will continue to become increasingly popular, sustaining this enthusiasm into 2022 and beyond.
Great Canadian Trails has been yelling from the hilltops for years that Canada is a world-class outdoor destination, largely underrated and frequently overlooked by travellers near and far. When the pandemic slammed the borders of international travel shut, local travellers were forced to look at their country – and their own provinces – with fresh eyes. We suddenly appreciated just how much we can experience here at home and that we don’t need to travel abroad to find unique adventures, scenery, food, culture and company. Tourism marketing dollars were rerouted into domestic campaigns, encouraging locals to explore their surroundings and support their communities. While there are encouraging signs that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, future waves and variants – and the restrictions that accompany them – will likely still keep travellers closer to home in 2022.
The 2021 COP event in Glasgow swung climate firmly back into the media spotlight. Devastating floods, wildfires, droughts and heatwaves brought climate change home for all of us. Beyond government policy, the tourism industry will have to adapt, becoming more sustainable, responsible, eco-friendly, and community-driven. Great Canadian Trails have recognized this by making all their trips 100% carbon neutral, offsetting their impact by purchasing carbon credits that support renewable energy and reforestation around the world. This comes at no additional cost to their clients. Every responsible tourism operator or agency should hopefully follow suit. Reducing carbon footprints extends well beyond carbon credits: how we travel makes a big difference. This further feeds into the increasing popularity of self-propelled outdoor adventures like hiking, biking and paddling.
The pandemic robbed us of two of the biggest gifts of travel: the human connections we make and the positive, personal insights that we discover on our journeys. Travel changes both ourselves and the world we live in. We all want to make up for lost time, and in doing there is a real hope that everyone from millennials to boomers will return to tourism with more patience, humility and appreciation. Anyone involved in tourism has had to endure tremendous sacrifices and challenges. We all want to support local industries and communities. We also know the value of tourism to bridge encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, fostering honest dialogue through experience. Many organizations and companies focusing on diversity and inclusion, personal growth, healthy living, and positive collaboration have matured during the pandemic, suggesting a positive trend moving forward.
While some destinations and activities will rebound faster than others, it might take a while before everyone feels comfortable among large crowds. Multi-generational travel was already starting to blossom before the pandemic. The rare opportunities to share adventures or special experiences with our nearest and dearest have only been amplified by lockdowns and restrictions. We’ve been reminded – sometimes tragically – just how quickly our biggest dreams can disappear, derailed by forces beyond our control. Gathering our loved ones will continue to not only feel safe but also vital and necessary. Travelling with parents, siblings, kids and close friends in travel bubbles – whether we’re on a self-guided road trip, outdoor adventure or vacation – will be another positive trend as we eagerly wait for the pandemic to slowly retreat in the rear-view mirror.
Whatever the future holds, here’s wishing you a safe, fun, and inspiring year of discovery ahead. You deserve it!
Robin Esrock is a renowned travel journalist and the bestselling author of the Great Canadian Bucket List.