The past year (longer than that at this point) has defied description. Aside from the terrible toll COVID-19 has taken on human life, it upended travel, something those within the industry observed firsthand. Suddenly, requests for domestic and international travel became less frequent, hindered by lockdowns and border closures.

American deaths might have been curtailed if there had been a concrete plan in place, and in its absence, the nation paid dearly. The light at the end of a winding tunnel is within view, but life will never be exactly as it was before.

Italy has been a popular travel destination for some time, celebrated for its natural beauty, delicious food, and for being the seat of the Renaissance. COVID-19 made its first known appearance in Lombardy, described by The Business Insider as “the hardest hit region in Europe’s hardest hit country.” MSNBC and other news outlets aired footage of Italian military tanks transporting corpses to crematoriums, and COVID-19 patients languished alone in hospitals, as it was unsafe to have loved ones around. It recalled a disaster film, but not a soul had the power to yell “cut!”

As COVID wreaked havoc, Europe noted the conspicuous absence of American tourists, often the big spenders. In the summer of 2020, Forbes reported that “Europe’s tourism-dependent economy was hard hit by the lack of some 15 million U.S. tourists,” with nations like Italy, France, Germany, and Spain feeling the brunt of it. Property owners, tour operators, and travel agents offered each other whatever moral support they could to weather the storm. It was evident that the virus was no respecter of age, race, or status, so taking the time to acknowledge shared humanity was a spark of warmth in an industry that can be impersonal at times.

When The United States became the virus epicenter, other countries closed their doors to Americans, and the holes in our infrastructure were exposed for all to see. Not all Americans were willing to get on the same page as far as mask wearing and other protective measures.  Some believed the virus was “overblown” or a hoax, in spite of the staggering mortality rate. Others trusted the counsel of medical professionals, and took the necessary precautions, as it was better to be inconvenienced than dead.

Perhaps the only other time New York City screeched to a halt in recent years was following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. But those circumstances were different and life rebounded. COVID-19 reduced an exciting city to a shell of its vibrant self, and it was jarring to see. Times Square still had its lights, but no throngs of dazzled tourists. Broadway shows and movie theaters were unable to operate.  Restaurants and bars drastically cut down hours or closed permanently. The haute couture shops of Fifth Avenue, institutions in their own right, were boarded up. The homeless crisis reached critical levels. The city that never sleeps didn’t die, but its pulse was barely detectable, and not knowing when it would regain strength was stressful.

Thanks to brilliant minds in science and medicine, vaccines were developed, an obvious game changer. A Black viral immunologist named Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett led the creation of the Moderna vaccine, and her unflinching commitment to her work has indeed saved lives. According to Bloomberg, “289 million doses have been given so far” in The United States, and that number is growing steadily now that the vaccines have been made available to numerous age groups. Many are eager to make up for lost time and venture beyond their homes, while others are waiting a bit longer to jump on a plane.

The future of travel looks promising, and 2021 offers something that was absent in 2020. Hope.