Is it possible to travel in 2021? Is it safe to book a trip now for later this year, or next 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 5 November 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 fluctuated up and down throughout 2021, but overall we have seen a steady decline since the end of August, as the Delta variant spike runs out of steam in many countries. Deaths are also on a downward trend. We are hoping to see a steady downward trend toward the end of the year as more and more vaccines are rolled out.
Even in South Africa, where vaccine roll out was off to a slow start, there is good news.
To date (early November 2021) about 40% of adults have been vaccinated. South Africa used to receive 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.
During the third wave of infections, which peaked in early July, the once-feared Beta variant has all but disappeared and been completely replaced by the Delta variant, which is the dominant strain around the world.
South Africa has seen a steady decline in cases since early July, and has removed most lockdown restrictions in response to a sustained downward trend in new infections and active cases. Case numbers are now very low, and active cases are only 0.03% of the population. Shops and restaurants are open. Leisure travel is allowed. International borders and game reserves remain open. Throughout 2021, safari trips have been possible, and key tourist destinations such as Cape Town and the Kruger National Park have remained open to tourists.
Here is a graph of South Africa's daily new cases, as at 4 November 2021:
The same encouraging trend can be seen throughout Southern and East Africa. For some reason the US, UK and Europe continue to report much higher case numbers than Southern Africa, despite high rates of vaccination. Fortunately, these cases are not accompanied by high numbers of deaths and ICU admissions. This shows that the vaccines are working, which is great news. It is clear from the data that vaccination does not stop you from getting infected, but it lowers your risk of getting seriously ill and ending up in hospital or dying.
In July 2021, the UK lifted all remaining lockdown restrictions, and subsequently they have also dropped their controversial "traffic light system" and no countries are red listed anymore. It is now possible to travel from the UK to Southern Africa or East Africa without quarantine, provided you are fully vaccinated.
What does all this mean in terms of travel in 2021 and beyond?
It means there is hope. We’re going to win this battle. The pandemic will eventually end. Travel is already safe and possible again. Here in Africa, for the most part life is back to normal again. Tourist numbers are picking up. Travel bookings for 2022 are coming in.
Earlier this year we interviewed some of our American guests who came on safari during May 2021. Here is what they had to say about their trip to South Africa:
When is it safe to book a trip?
The answer to this question is clear from the current data and case numbers. And our guests in the video above have answered this emphatically:
It is already safe to travel!
As the pandemic subsides, more and more people will want to get up and get out there, and travel again. The early birds are already booking and traveling. The last year and a half of lockdowns, travel restrictions and pent up demand will result in a huge spike in travel bookings in the coming months. Many people will be planning trips. Especially vacations to remote, uncrowded areas, in nature. Like an African safari. Bustling, crowded tourist cities will perhaps 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.