The coronavirus pandemic has put many aspects of life on hold. Countries around the world have been plunged into lockdowns – with some governments imposing stricter measures than others.

And after 18 months of turmoil, the travel industry is still struggling to get back on its feet.

However, some experts are suggesting that the introduction of various vaccine rollouts and COVID-19 passports means tourism might soon meet its pre-pandemic levels – and could even surpass 2019 figures.

But will this so-called ‘revenge travel’ lead to more people moving abroad? Has the pandemic increased enthusiasm for living abroad, or has it made us value being close to family and friends? And what do current expats think? We have all the answers waiting for you further down the page.

COVID-19 passports

Expect more travel on the horizon, thanks to vaccination rollouts and COVID-19 passports

What is ‘revenge travel’?

Let’s get one thing straight – the term ‘revenge travel’ isn’t as sinister as it sounds.

The world has become a smaller place in recent decades, and travel is now more accessible for everyone. But, unfortunately, COVID-19 has put globetrotting on the back burner for the past 18 months – contributing to a growing sense of wanderlust for many.

It’s therefore predicted that once more people get vaccinated and economies start to open up without restrictions, many people will make up for lost time by exploring the world as much as possible – more than they did before the pandemic. This is what experts in the travel industry are calling ‘revenge travel’.

Has there been a recent increase in travel?

Yes – a lot of people are well and truly itching to travel again, with many doing so as soon as governments give them the go-ahead.

Although many countries still aren’t out of the woods with COVID-19, an AirDNA study found that demand for Airbnb and VRBO bookings in small cities and rural areas is already up 62% compared to figures from the summer of 2019.

Despite this uptick, the tourism industry is still very uncertain at the moment – some countries still have restrictions and strict border controls, whilst others flit between traffic light systems.

This is why some travel agents are suggesting that although travel rates in 2021 are booming (compared to 2019 figures), 2022 is set to be an even better year for the travel industry.

In March 2021, Thomas Cook spokesman David Child stated that the company’s 2022 bookings had already overtaken bookings for 2021: “This summer still is not certain. What we’re selling for 2022 is higher-price, longer-stay holidays for large groups.”

Predictions for future travel and relocation trends

As it stands, experts are pretty divided about whether or not travel rates post-COVID will surpass 2019 figures.

Generally, signs are pointing to more overseas travel on the horizon. There are, however, some doubts about whether overseas travel will reach pre-pandemic levels in the next two years, or if it will take longer.

According to a global survey by the World Tourism Organisation, only 14% of travel experts think international tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. 36% said they think it won’t be until 2023, while 49% said it will be 2024 or later.

As for international relocation? Again, there’s a lot of disagreement. Roughly 38% of experts believe the number of expats in 2021-2022 will reach pre-pandemic levels – with 11% suggesting there will actually be an increase. On the other hand, 44% of experts believe the number of expats will decrease compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Digging into this a little more, media platform Al Jazeera spoke to more than a dozen visa and immigration service providers in India. Most reported an “unprecedented” increase in the number of people inquiring about procedures to immigrate to other countries in early 2021.

One main reason behind this surge in immigration is India’s deathly second wave of COVID-19, which peaked in April 2021. In fact, Dharmesh Dhakan, the managing director of visa agency Fly for Holidays, said the company had seen a 40% increase in queries regarding immigration around the same period as the lethal second wave.

Auckland, New Zealand, at sunset

Auckland is now the world’s most ‘liveable’ city, thanks to the way it’s handled the pandemic

Where are people moving to most during the pandemic?

Believe it or not, people have still been moving abroad during the pandemic – but which countries are proving popular?

Below, we’ve listed the top places people have been relocating to over the years, including the year the pandemic took off:

Top countries in 2014Top countries in 2018Top countries in 2020
SwedenJapanNew Zealand

Data from The Network, 2021

As you can see, New Zealand and Singapore were introduced into the table in 2020 – two nations with notoriously low COVID-19 death rates. On the flip side, countries that haven’t dealt with the virus very well – such as the UK, the US, and Germany – have dropped further down the table.

The way countries have dealt with (and are continuing to deal with) COVID-19 is a new factor that expats are now considering.

The Global Liveability Index 2021 has even taken this into account when ranking cities around the world. Auckland was placed at the top of the list of ‘liveable’ cities, mainly due to its quick and efficient containment of the pandemic, which meant that restrictions there could be lifted earlier than in other cities.

1AucklandNew Zealand
4WellingtonNew Zealand
8Geneva Switzerland

Data from William Russell, 2021

Reasons for relocating after COVID-19

For some, relocating after the pandemic will simply be a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery, or a new adventure. But, of course, there are lots of other reasons why relocating might seem more appealing now than before the pandemic, including the way COVID-19 has transformed working life.

Despite restrictions easing in parts of the world, remote working is still being encouraged by a lot of employers – an initiative that has generally been welcomed with open arms by employees. Various companies – some as large as Twitter and Deloitte – have even proposed remote working as a permanent policy.

These are perfect conditions for anyone wanting to hold onto their job whilst moving abroad, which might be why roughly 59% of people say they are more willing to relocate for work now than they were prior to the pandemic.

On top of this, in a bid to prop up the tourism industry, lots of countries are now encouraging employees to work from home by offering remote working visas. Want to work from a beach in Dubai? Apply for the country’s one-year visa. Fancy strolling through Portuguese streets on your lunch break? Check out its pilot Digital Nomads Madeira scheme.

Another key reason why more people are likely to travel post-COVID is to reconnect with others – whether that’s to see loved ones again or to create new relationships. Studies also suggest that post-COVID holidays are set to be more focused on people rather than places.

Has the pandemic impacted existing expats?

Unlike pre-pandemic life, many expats have been unable to pop home to see family and friends for over a year now – leading experts to question whether this has changed expats’ minds on living abroad.

However, despite not being able to visit their home countries for over a year, a recent study found that 75% of expats are still ‘very or fairly confident’ about continuing with their way of life, rather than returning home.

There are a number of reasons that contribute to this, including the standard of living, affordability, and work-life balance expats tend to experience abroad. But the report was also keen to highlight that there is a correlation between how the pandemic was handled and expats’ confidence in staying abroad.

The most confident responses came from expats in Singapore – with 88% reporting to be ‘very or fairly confident’ – and the UAE with 87% reporting the same. On the other hand, expats living in countries that haven’t handled the pandemic as well, such as Germany and Mexico, had comparatively lower levels of confidence – only 64% and 70% reported to be very or fairly confident, respectively.

In a separate study, William Russell suggested that while the majority of expats said the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health, more than one in five said their mental health had actually improved.

This divided feedback suggests that expat experiences have been very circumstantial during the pandemic, which could come down to how long individuals had been settled into their new homes before COVID-19 struck.

Summary: Will revenge travel become revenge relocation?

Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain how the pandemic will impact current and future expats.

What we do know, however, is that COVID-19 has changed the way the world works. We can now see family and friends with a click of a button, and many of us can continue working remotely.

For some, now is finally the time to reconnect with family and friends, which means staying put. For others, a year of restrictions has increased the urge to explore the world – if not now, then definitely in the next few years.