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“We are definitely into the hopeful stage..."

By Alison Fox
December 04, 2020
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The approval of a vaccine out of the UK has shone a light at the end of a very dark coronavirus tunnel for a beleaguered travel industry and wanderlust-stricken tourists. But experts warned while vaccines could help revive vacations, the world still has a long way to go.

The travel industry — which has been floundering for months as restrictions and second waves stymie both domestic and international trips — got a sign of hope when the UK on Wednesday approved a new COVID-19 vaccine developed by the U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, becoming the first Western country in the world to do so. The UK (which currently requires travelers quarantine for five days and test negative for coronavirus) ordered vaccine doses for about 20 million people, prioritizing healthcare workers, while regulators in several other countries, including the U.S., Europe, and Canada, are still reviewing the data.

While it will still be several months before enough people are vaccinated to have a real impact on global travel, the excitement is not misplaced, Dr. Scott Weisenberg, the director of the travel medicine program at NYU Langone Health, told Travel + Leisure.

“This is the path for all of us to return to normal life, including travel,” Weisenberg said. “We are definitely into the hopeful stage, rather than just telling people you have to do all these behaviors they don't want to do. There's definitely an end point.”

In fact, 58% of people recently polled pinned their hopes on a proven vaccine saying it would make them feel safe traveling again, according to a survey provided to T+L by the Allianz Partners insurance company. And of those Americans who do plan to travel, 70% would do so by air.

Once a vaccine is available, it will likely be required to fly in the same way test results are now, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) developing a travel pass, likened to a digital “passport,” capable of storing passengers’ health information and proof of inoculation.

“The promise of a highly-effective COVID-19 vaccine could be a substantial step toward recovery for the travel industry, and… a key factor in customers feeling more confident booking trips for 2021,” Daniel Durazo, the director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA, said in a statement, adding “pent-up” demand for travel appears to be at an “all-time high.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who specializes in infectious diseases, estimates travel won’t significantly rebound until mid-2021. But that recovery will be “much more prompt” in countries that quickly vaccinate larger portions of their populations.

“Each person that gets vaccinated brings us closer to some semblance of normalcy,” Adalja told T+L. “The vaccine is going to change the risk perception.”

Weisenberg echoed the sentiment, adding people should consider the “level of immunity” of a destination when planning future trips.

Tori Emerson Barnes, the executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, called the UK vaccine developments an “encouraging sign of progress,” but added, “The timing for production and broad distribution of a vaccine here in the U.S. remains unclear.”

In the meantime, she told T+L, “the travel industry remains focused on general health and safety practices to protect workers and the public.” 

Weisenberg cautioned that until vaccine distribution is very widespread, people shouldn’t let their guards down.

“What's important is that people... continue to do all the social distancing and mask wearing... all those things we know reduce the risk,” he said.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.