The future of travel will include distinct destinations, including space travel, undersea expeditions and virtual reality trips. It will also include a new threat matrix. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality are opportunities that could supplement physical travel. 

“The argument goes that the material world may lose its allure as virtual reality technology advances. I disagree,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

“Virtual reality and its derivatives are ‘pseudo travel’ and, ultimately, we’re going to want to go see the places in the flesh. However, virtual reality will likely enable us to immersively share our experiences with friends and family in a way that brings these destinations to life like no slide show ever could.”

Undersea and the cosmos are the next long-term destination priorities. Space tourism is already available, although at present a 90-minute tour costs nearly half a million dollars per person for a few minutes of weightlessness. 

“It’s only a matter of time before opportunity increases, excursions mature, and costs decrease for space travel,” Richards said.

The tide of undersea tourism is rising, too. The world’s first underwater hotel opened in 2018, the world’s largest underwater restaurant cut the ribbon a year later, and underwater art galleries are spreading like Ngaro Underwater Sculpture Trail in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands – each bring marine tourism closer to travelers.  

New Threats, Security

The next decade of travel threats will also include threats experienced in the last decade, including the threat of pandemics. “While the current pandemic is waning and some may believe there’s no need to spend money to protect against a new potential pandemic, they’re wrong. It’s not a matter of if, but when, a new pandemic will emerge and we now have the means to prevent it, provided we have the will,” Richards said.

Technology exists today to identify pathogens that spread through the air.

“We can use technology in transportation hubs to identify infectious disease outbreaks and take immediate action. That technology can be deployed in a way so the protocols don’t increase friction in travel,” he said.


[Related reading: The Ultimate World Travel Safety Kit ]


Health security measures deployed in airports and railway terminals are essential.

“Adding pathogen scanners to the current array of metal detectors, backscatter x-ray machines, millimeter-wave scanners, and cabinet x-ray machines should be a priority,” Richards said. 

Global leaders have sufficient data from the coronavirus pandemic to know what works when it comes to protecting human lives and economic livelihood.

“Pandemic threats can be mitigated if we put our minds and our resources into them,” he said. 

Lessons Learned

For most travelers, the major learnings from the pandemic will have a significant impact on the future of travel. Obtaining travel protection and using local getaways are the two biggest lessons realized since the pandemic onset.

“The pandemic raised awareness of the limitations of travel insurance and the value of having stand-alone medical assistance and an evacuation safety net that is not an ordinary, off-the-shelf travel insurance policy,” said Jim Sano, the former president of Geographic Expeditions, a Yosemite Park Ranger and senior advisor for Global Rescue.

Richards agrees. “The traveler mindset made a tectonic shift, moving travel protection for emergency medical services and evacuation from ‘optional’ to ‘obligatory.’ Travelers learned emergency rescue and evacuation services are often essential, whether it’s due to COVID-19, a natural disaster, civil unrest or simply needing emergency help when you’re traveling,” he said.  

The second important lesson travelers learned is the beauty and convenience of local travel and exploration.  

COVID-19 opened the door for people to discover and appreciate the great outdoors nearby, and people flooded through the doorway.

“Outdoor activity worldwide is reaching unprecedented heights of curiosity and participation as travelers learn to take advantage of local, outdoor activities. We learned, too, and eliminated our ‘miles-from-home’ requirement to access rescue services,” Richards said.  

In business travel, the next several years will challenge managers and employees to strike a balance to achieve business productivity and worker satisfaction. A third of business travelers now have a remote work schedule and many of them will travel more and longer as a result. The prospect of working from anywhere under more flexible attendance policies is going to give many staffers the ability to live and work in places they couldn’t before.


[Related reading: Duty of Care and the Future of Digital Nomads]


“Virtual substitution for in-person meetings is here to stay. The pandemic has demonstrated productive work can be done from almost anywhere, leading people to take advantage of that circumstance. The future of business travel will be structured around more digital nomadism and location-independent work,” he said. 

The biggest management challenge in this evolving environment will be the ability to supervise a location-independent workforce. 

“Managing the remote workforce will be a new challenge as unprecedented numbers of employees log in from the beach, mountains and other places where they’ve chosen to live,” Richards said.