Gabriele Mabrucco and his girlfriend, Christine Estima, were supposed to visit Vietnam this past September for around two weeks. Instead, with COVID-19 concerns and restrictions grounding most vacations, they ended up venturing to Paris and London—Ontario, that is. But the pandemic has inspired the Toronto couple to think bigger. Much bigger: a one-year, around-the-world adventure.
“It’s good motivation to get through the weeks,” says Mabrucco, a 32-year-old civil engineer. “I know that this amazing thing is coming up, if it all goes according to plan. I think about it all the time.”
COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented decline in tourism worldwide. The pandemic has forced people to put off plans, defer trips, postpone parties and generally delay life’s fun adventures. But experts say that could dramatically change in 2021. “We have seen with past declines in travel—whether that was 9/11, SARS or the financial crisis—you end up with this pent-up demand as soon as you’re through the crisis,” says tourism expert and University of Guelph professor Marion Joppe. “That pent-up demand absolutely explodes.”
Canadians began researching potential future vacations roughly one month after the stay-at-home mandates were first introduced, according to a recent Expedia report. Rosemarie Herscovitch, a travel agent in Winnipeg, says travellers and industry professionals alike are “in dream mode,” talking about where they hope to visit once the pandemic is over. For her family of four, that includes potential trips to Oman and Dubai or, if her husband gets his pick, Tahiti. Though Canadians initially held off on planning travel, Herscovitch is seeing bookings for 2021 and increasingly for 2022. Even the cruise industry, which experienced several deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at the outset of the pandemic, is seeing renewed interest for next year.
“We’ve never seen so many people booking a year or 10 months out,” says Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of G Adventures and author of Unlearn, an ebook exploring how COVID-19 will impact the future of tourism. He predicts that, as soon as it’s safe to do so, Canadians will take longer trips. Before the pandemic, vacations typically ranged from one week to 10 days, says Poon Tip, but going forward, he expects to see more two-week vacations and extended stays with people planning to work remotely while away. Joppe agrees that once Canadians feel safe to travel again, they will take off for an extended period of time.
Estima, a freelance journalist, spent most of her 20s and early 30s backpacking all over the world, but the longest trip Mabrucco has ever taken was around two weeks. After hearing about Estima’s adventures, he is looking forward to immersing himself in local communities. He pictures himself strolling down the cobblestone streets of a small town in Austria or the Czech Republic, holding Estima’s hand, stopping at a small café to sit and read a book.
Estima plans to work during their travels, but Mabrucco hopes to take a sabbatical, though he has yet to bring this up with his employer. He’s been with the same company for more than a decade, and admits he’s nervous about the idea of putting his career on hold. “It’s definitely a sacrifice,” he says. But as he puts it: “It’s all about the adventure, right?” Estima hopes to tick things like a hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti and a visit to the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia off her bucket list. In the meantime, they are using 2021 to save up for their year-long adventure.
Of course, the Toronto couple’s dream vacation (which likely won’t happen until 2022) is dependent on safety. Rapid testing for international travellers could dramatically reduce mandatory quarantines—technology that Poon Tip says will be crucial to enabling travel next year. The other key, he says, is COVID-specific medical insurance, which several providers have already introduced in partnership with major Canadian airlines and travel agencies.
With many countries worldwide experiencing second and, in some cases, third waves of COVID and renewed lockdowns, it likely will not be possible to travel internationally until later next year. But for Estima and Mabrucco, that just means more time to plan the trip of a lifetime. “No one looks back and wishes they had spent more time at the office, you know?” says Estima. “We just need something to remind us that there is a lot of beauty [in the world] and we should go out there and seek it.”
This article appears in print in the January 2021 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “The big (gigantic) trip.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.