So many of us who work in the travel industry could have never predicted what was going to happen this year. The Covid-19 pandemic really turned 2020 into a nightmare for anyone with travel plans, let alone anyone who runs, manages or works for a company in the travel industry.
Personally, I had four large trips in 2020 cancelled and a couple even in 2021 that I’ve had to postpone, along with numerous trips that my clients obviously have had to postpone/cancel as well. Then came the bad news that due to the pandemic and the strain it put on the company that I work for, I was put into an “inactive” status as a travel agent. So here I am, now July, and I’m still like a pilot without a plane to fly.
That being said, having some time off of my day job has given me time to re-evaluate my short term and long term goals, focus on the other part of my business that I love, being creative and creating new content. I’ve taken some “continuing education” courses, attended some great “virtual conferences” for content creators and started working on launching a travel YouTube channel (more on this coming very soon!). But back to the topic at hand…
In my opinion as a travel professional, Covid-19 has changed the travel industry forever, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I released a two-part podcast episode on this topic, but figured I’d also write this blog post as things have progressed even since those episodes were released.
The Travel Industry Will Bounce Back
The travel industry overall is resilient. We’ve seen the downturn from September 11th (which saw many airlines go bankrupt shortly afterwards), the recession of 2008 and other global events which have impacted travel. That being said, the travel industry was definitely hit the hardest it’s ever been by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the first time we’ve seen any company related to travel (airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tours, etc) shut down temporarily for such an extended period of time. Yes, there are always ebbs and flows when it comes to the travel industry. Travel is a luxury item for many households, so in an economic downturn it’s not surprising that the travel industry takes a tumble. Many people are still either off work, unemployed or have just recently returned to work, and are now trying to get caught up financially.
However, with Covid-19, people and families were stuck inside and in many countries were forced to quarantine themselves to help “flatten the curve”. Because of this, people are looking forward to getting out and exploring once again. People also value their vacation time, whether that’s reconnecting with family members or recharging after a stressful year. With my own clients, in the past couple years I’ve been seeing the trend of clients wanting a more “experiential” vacation over just going to a location for a mindless holiday. People are more interested in making memories over collecting things. Most people only have two weeks vacation per year, so they want to make the most of it. These trends alone really led to the travel industry making a comeback in the upcoming months.
Domestic travel (either within your own country or in a cluster, if say you live in Europe), has re-opened again in recent weeks. The numbers are positive so far with people booking local trips and looking to re-book vacations that were cancelled this year and move them to 2021 and/or 2022. If everything stays on the upward market trend and there is no resurgence of Covid-19, International travel in my opinion will “cautiously” start up again this Fall. That being said, most travel related businesses have obviously suffered severely this year. In the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, etc), our “Summer season” from May to September has been a write off essentially to any hope of re-opening to International travellers. So I do encourage you to “be a tourist in your own town/region”. Support businesses locally to you who normally rely on tourism. This how we can all support our local tourism businesses so they can bounce back to welcome the world next year and for years to come.
Cruise Lines Have to Make Conscious Changes
The cruising industry (other than airlines) was the hardest hit. Thousands of sailings cancelled, not to mention the bad press that came from a couple sailings when Covid-19 emerged on the global scene. It’s shaken the confidence of even the most avid cruiser. That being said, the cruise industry as a whole has taken steps to win back the trust of the consumer, but it needs to stay that way long after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Personally, I think cruising now is probably the safest it ever has been in cruising’s history. Cleaning will be more frequent in public spaces, more a deep clean during cabin turnarounds between guests, forced hand washing/sanitising when entering dining rooms (some cruise lines already were doing a great job at this), newer and updated air filtration systems, enhanced screenings at check in and reducing guest capacity on ships are just some of the ways cruise lines are making changes for the good.
Most cruise lines have introduced “Peace of Mind” policies , which allow people to cancel 48 hours prior to sailing, if for some reason you don’t feel comfortable sailing or if you’re ill (each cruise line is different, check each cruise lines terms and conditions carefully). This actually brings me to my next point:
You Won’t Be Allowed to Travel Going Forward If You’re Sick
For the foreseeable future anyways. Again, personally, I’m all for this. With most airlines also promising “safe flying protocols”, which include upgraded air filtration systems and more disinfection between flights in airplane cabins, planes should be less “germy” than they’ve been in the past.
If you show up for your flight and you’re sick, you can pretty well guarantee that you will be denied boarding. That goes beyond boarding a flight though. You can be denied boarding your cruise ship, joining your group tour and even checking into a hotel. The travel industry is not taking anymore chances right now when it comes to further losses, especially bad press. This is also where you need to make sure that you have sufficient travel insurance going forward, if you can’t board a plane or your cruise ship, you need to make sure you’re covered to get all your money back for your vacation.
Flight and Vacation Prices: Going Up or Down After Covid-19?
To begin with, there will be some very attractive offers to get consumers travelling again. I’ve seen crazy deals already on flights and cruises. I’ve booked hotels in Whistler for unheard of rates in past years. That won’t last for long unfortunately.
There are also travel sectors that will be in higher demand than before. This means you won’t be able to score a business class ticket for a fraction of what they once were. Yes, it is true that businesses have proven more meetings can now be held online and over video conferences, plus not to mention that larger corporations have suffered financially during this time and have cut travel budgets. But the fact remains that having your own “pod” in the business class cabin gives you more space for “social distancing”, which will be in high demand now, post-pandemic more than ever.
Costs of extra staff, time of turnover to clean and cleaning materials will eventually be “included” into the base fares you pay. This will mean that costs of flights, hotel rooms, cruises will go up, especially if they are not allowed to run at full capacity.
We are also going to see consumers make more of a conscious buying decision when it comes to flexibility. I think now gone are the days where most people will buy a 100% non refundable fare or package without thinking twice. People will pay more to have something refundable as a built in insurance so to speak. For example, hotels and airlines offer the best deals and rates as non refundable fares, but now I think we will see people opt for the refundable, more expensive priced options.
Consumers will also think twice about declining travel insurance. As a travel agent, I will say that travel insurance has been a huge help for my clients who have had trips cancel on them or they’ve had to cancel their trips due to Covid-19. Some suppliers were able to help limit losses by allowing my clients to re-book trips or offer attractive “future travel credits”.
Future Travel Credits Over Refunds
Okay, I’m going to say it. I’m all for travel companies issuing future travel credits over refunds.
Yes, it might be annoying to not have your “cash back”. But think of it this way. Most cruise lines were offering 110% to 140% future cruise credits (in addition to other perks) to clients who’s sailings were cancelled. Ummm, you can’t get that return at any bank for that investment.
83% of people who were asked in a recent poll actually said they would be re-booking the exact same trip they were forced to cancel in the next year, so why not take advantage of the perks that come along with the future travel credits being offered?
If you really didn’t want a future travel credit and want a refund, I hope you purchased travel insurance. Travel agents have always touted the benefits of travel insurance, this is one of the reasons why. Most travel insurers (this does depend on the insurer and policy purchased) are paying out claims where clients where just offered a future travel credit. Yes, there are some instances where you don’t know if you can travel again, or if the trip will even happen in the near future so a refund is preferred (believe me I get it, my trip to the British F1 Grand Prix was cancelled this year and not sure if that trip will be in my books again for a few years to come). Life happens, but that’s why you need insurance. You probably have car insurance, house insurance, etc so you should have travel insurance to protect the investment of your vacation costs.
That being said, I think consumers are actually now going to be making different buying decisions when it comes to all aspects of travel, especially with group travel.
Small Group Travel vs Larger Tours
I believe companies who offer small group tours and adventures are going to be in higher demand going forward. With most tour passenger counts with small group tour companies at a maximum capacity of between 12 and 18 people (again depending on the company and tour offered), this is going to give travellers the confidence they can socially distance themselves and still see a destination more intimately.
Small groups also lend better to those who want to make sure they can socially distance and have their own room option. If you think about it logistically, it makes more sense for a smaller group to take over local accommodations socially distanced than a larger group.
I’m a huge advocate of small group tours and have done a few myself, the lure of being in a group where you can truly see and experience a culture, place, etc without sometimes seeing other tourists is amazing! Smaller groups can really help you experience the true soul of a place, without being herded around like cattle and following a flag in a crowd. As I mentioned earlier, I think people are craving more experiential travel nowadays, where food and culture collide.
If the Second Wave Hits, Will Everything Just Shut Down Again?
The honest answer is that we don’t know and that it depends. If the travel industry has taken anything to heart (and the world in general), it’s that we can’t afford a total shut down again.
We need businesses to start opening again and stay open. This helps all of our economies and will make sure that we can start to get back to a new normal. Hopefully, with all the safety measures in place, we’ll be able to continue on with life, and if you are sick, please take heeded advice to stay at home.
Why Using a Travel Agent or Advisor Is Smart
Especially after the pandemic, travel agents are in the know of each travel provider’s policies and can help our clients navigate which vacation option is best for them. When you book your trips and vacations online yourself, your computer isn’t going to give you first hand knowledge of the area that hotel is located in that you just booked, local restaurant recommendations or even which sights are a must do. Your computer also doesn’t care if you need to cancel a couple days prior to departure because you’re sick or double check to make sure you have the correct (and sufficient) travel insurance to cover you. Booking with a human normally doesn’t cost more than booking with your computer, you’re just going to get better service and a customized experience. Plus, you’re helping support an actual person, not necessarily a massive corporation.
I am a travel agent and advisor who specializes in luxury travel and cruises and I love to help people plan and book amazing vacations. At time of print of this article, I am currently “inactive”, however if you would like to work with me as your travel agent in the near future, please contact me and I can put you on my “client wait list”.
Covid-19 Has Changed Travel Forever and That’s Okay
Being in the travel industry for over 8 years has taught me one thing (okay and life in general), change is good. It’s painful in the beginning, but it can be for the good. With all these new cleaning and social distancing procedures in place for airlines, airports, cruise ships, tour groups and hotels, we will see a healthier travelling environment overall. We need to make sure though that companies stay on top of these procedures and keep them going forward, not just until we think Covid-19 is over.
Looking forward to travelling again soon,
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