What will supplier visits to travel agencies look like in the future? A recently conducted survey of our luxury travel advisor audience showed that a third of advisors expect to welcome suppliers back into their offices by this summer; however, another third said they’ll only accept them in if they are vaccinated. Seventeen percent said they plan to do only Zoom calls in the future with suppliers.
This may be temporary as the pandemic dissipates, but it’s more important than ever that suppliers maintain their communication and strong partnerships with advisors, who upsell their offerings and bring in high-profit sales.
I’m also wondering how U.S. suppliers will fare once international borders open up. In our roundtable with Frosch travel advisors, we hear that domestic travel is selling out for 2021 since clients cannot yet go to Europe. But what will happen to this domestic love affair after that? The U.S. hoteliers who forge strong, respectful relationships with luxury travel advisors now are those who will garner their profitable bookings in the future.
As for other finding from our survey, which had 225 responses from luxury travel advisors: An overwhelming 87 percent of respondents said they have seen bookings pick up in the new year and the numbers show that U.S. travelers are anxious to hit the road. That we know. While understandably, domestic travel remains strong (77 percent want to travel close to home), the demand for international travel is also robust, with 49 percent of the advisors saying clients are requesting Europe vacations for the future. (Advisors were able to answer more than one option for this question). Europe falls a tad behind demand for Mexico (55 percent) and the Caribbean (58 percent), however, it’s important to note that Mexico is currently fully open to the U.S. as is the majority of the Caribbean, with proof of vaccinations and/or proper COVID testing required.
The good news all around is that travelers intend to spend more in 2021, in some cases to reward themselves for having stayed shut in for the past year. In other cases, consumers simply have a stash of cash to spend, having not vacationed in 2020. Other sentiments indicate that travelers are booking now because they want to seize the moment, should another pandemic close down international borders. The spend for trips is forecasted to be higher in 2021 and 2022, and the length of vacations are skewing longer, as clients realize once they’re out of the house that being at a hotel or a resort feels perfectly safe and they’re in no rush to go home.
The majority of advisors said that luxury travelers, particularly those traveling as couples, prefer FIT (independent travel), while 14 percent are seeking packaged travel options.
Commentary from the survey shows that client travel patterns are varying wildly, with an abundant number of requests for close-in vacations, and a slew of requests for trips in late 2021 and into 2022. The good news for hoteliers and tour operators is that 74 percent of advisors surveyed said their clients are reserving trips further out to secure premium space. Indeed, we are hearing that top accommodations are selling out well into the future, as clients feel comfortable reserving multiple trips. Festive season for the Caribbean is already close to full, and that includes villa and private home accommodations.
Safety remains a primary consideration, with 65 percent of advisors saying their clients will require their private car and/or driver to be vaccinated as a condition prior to booking. Along those lines, travel advisors provided anecdotal proof that clients are feeling more and more comfortable traveling as they become vaccinated.
However, one trend to note is that some travel advisors are “double booking” for clients, i.e., reserving a trip abroad as well as something close to home for the same time frame, should international borders not open up in time. Refundable itineraries have hence become the new “must,” as advisors and clients alike do not want to go through the angst of cancelling non-refundable trips as they did in 2020.
One advisor told us: “I am getting two kinds of bookings; close in, for the beach or Arizona and Florida...or, exotic bespoke vacations that check off something on a bucket list, like Machu Picchu, the Galapagos or custom FIT Europe, as well as Alaska luxury cruises.”
Another advisor concurred, noting that her clients are requesting Europe for August and beyond and that they are also seeking to tick off destinations on their bucket list.
Indeed, 2022 is looking very good for international travel. As one respondent noted: “Clients are booking further out to make sure they have been vaccinated [before traveling] and hoping the testing requirement to return home is dropped. They’re also waiting for Europe to reopen and for cruises to start.”
Onward, to a bright future for all!