Is it possible to travel in 2021? Is it safe to book a trip now for later this year? Should I wait until the pandemic is completely over before making my plans, or should I book now? We get these questions often. Let’s answer them.
[This blog post was updated on 29 June 2021]
Here’s what Klara Glowczewska, Executive Travel Editor of Town & Country has to say:
“Start planning your first trips now. Once we’re vaccinated and it feels safe, there will be a sudden tipping point—and a mad rush to go. Be ready, or you’ll be locked out. I would love a blow-out trip to Africa with my family in the early fall—the inherent distancing, the wildlife, the wilderness."
And she’s right. Here’s why.
Global decline in daily new cases
Globally, the 7-day average of new daily cases has seen a steady decline since the end of April, from an average high of 828,678 new cases per day down to below 400,000 new daily cases throughout June. That’s a promising trend, which will hopefully continue downwards as more and more vaccines are rolled out.
But even in South Africa, where vaccine roll out has been a bit slow, there is good news.
South Africa has received a ton of bad press due to the Beta variant (previously known as the B.1.351 variant) discovered here, which was dominant during our second wave. However, this variant turned out to be not nearly as scary as the headlines suggested. With minimal restrictions and without vaccines, the second wave was effectively brought under control.
More recently, we have seen a third wave of infections emerge since the last week of May, particularly in Gauteng province, which resulted in South Africa being moved to lockdown alert level 4 with effect from 27 June 2021. This third wave is due to the Delta variant which is spreading around the world and is also causing a resurgence of cases in the UK.
Lockdown level 4 outlaws social gatherings, bans alcohol consumption and imposes a 9 pm curfew to curb infections spreading via social drinking and partying. Restaurants have been asked to close to seated diners and may only offer take away meals until 11 July 2021. Apart from restaurant closures, these restrictions do not impact tourists much. Leisure travel to and from Gauteng province is restricted but transit through Gauteng is still permitted. International borders and game reserves remain open. This means safari trips can still happen, and key tourist destinations such as Cape Town and the Kruger National Park are still open to tourists (but not to residents from Gauteng province).
Here is a graph of global daily new cases, as at 29 June 2021:
Even India has managed to turn their wave of Delta infections around, without high rates of vaccination. This is encouraging news. The current fears around the Delta variant are similar to the earlier news and uncertainty about the Beta variant found in South Africa, which triggered a wave of fear-mongering, sensationalist news headlines around the world, resulting in many countries banning flights from South Africa. The Beta variant is now found in over 50 countries and on the decline everywhere. The Delta variant is now the new dominant variant and will hopefully also be brought under control quickly.
How did South Africa control their second wave without vaccines? Keep in mind there were no travel restrictions. Most shops, restaurants and businesses remained open. The main containment strategy was compulsory masks in public, an evening curfew and restrictions on large gatherings (as well as some controversial restrictions like beach closures and a temporary ban on alcohol sales). With this relatively mild lockdown approach, the second wave was brought under control without the help of vaccines and without any travel bans. We hope to see the same during the current third wave.
Encouragingly, recent sero-prevalence studies by the South African National Blood Service suggest that South Africa is well on its way to natural herd immunity.
What about the United Kingdom and United States, Africa's biggest tourism source markets?
Here is the UK graph of daily new cases:
And here is the graph for the United States:
Like South Africa, the UK is seeing a surge in new cases, of very similar magnitude as South Africa. However, in the US, most of Europe and even in India, case numbers are trending down. Vaccination campaigns are starting to bear fruit. Israel is leading the world in terms of vaccination rollout and showing very promising results. The UK is not far behind and also has a very successful vaccination campaign.
Recently, the UK lifted restrictions on international travel, and replaced the outright ban with a traffic light system which imposes different containment measures on different countries depending on the level of risk. The UK still hopes to have all restrictions lifted by 19 July 2021.
So that is great news for us all. But what does this mean in terms of travel in 2021?
It means there is hope. We’re going to win this battle. The pandemic will eventually end. Flight bans will not last forever. "Red lists" will grow shorter and eventually be scrapped. Globally, even with the new variants of the virus, transmission will slow to a trickle, pressure on hospitals will continue to ease off, and the planet will breathe a collective sigh of relief. We’re not sure exactly when this will happen, but that it will happen is certain. And at the current pace of recovery, it seems likely that most of the world will reopen for international travel during the second half of 2021.
We recently interviewed some of our American guests who came on safari during during May 2021. Here is what they had to say about their trip to South Africa:
When will it be safe to travel again?
And when is it safe to book a trip?
These are the key questions. And our guests in the video above have answered this emphatically:
It is already safe to travel!
When the pandemic subsides, everyone will want to get up and get out there, and travel again. The early birds are already booking and traveling. Soon we will see what more than a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions and pent up demand will do to travel trends. Many people will be planning trips. Especially vacations to remote, uncrowded areas, in nature. Like an African safari. Bustling, crowded tourist cities will take longer to recover. But wilderness destinations that offer outdoor experiences, with fresh air and plenty of sunshine and nature walks and safari drives on open vehicles will be in high demand.
And everyone who had to postpone their 2020 trip will be planning their new trip dates.
What will the wise travellers do?
They will book now, according to Jesse Ashlock, Deputy Global Editorial Director of Condé Nast Traveler:
“The wise travellers are the ones who are making plans now. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate how much demand there will be once everyone is confident about travelling again, and supply could become a real quandary, especially for peak travel dates."
Wise words from a travel industry expert.
Here is our advice: Do not miss out by waiting too long. Make your plans now. Once everyone is confident that the pandemic is over, the floodgates will open and availability will become a real problem.
The good news is that under our temporary Covid policy, there are very flexible booking conditions in place while the pandemic remains a concern. A small refundable deposit or commitment fee is required to lock in your dates and show your intent, but you can cancel without penalty and get a full refund if you end up being unable to travel due to COVID-19. And with full financial protection in place, you can book with total confidence. It is safe to book now.
Don’t wait too long. Book your trip now.
Are you ready to stick your neck out and start planning your next trip? When and where would you like to go? Let us know in the comments.
About the author
Onne Vegter is the managing director of Wild Wings Safaris. He has a deep love for Africa's people, wildlife and natural heritage. Onne has travelled to most of Africa's top safari destinations and his writing is based on years of personal experience in the safari industry. Follow him on Twitter at @OnneVegter.