As we were going to press I did some checking around to see how everyone was doing and the news was heartening. Several travel advisors were reporting their best week since COVID struck. Their clients who have already been fully vaccinated are inquiring about Europe travel; some even want to go in April. One advisor suggested that was simply too soon and was telling them to push that trip a bit further into the future. In our cover feature this month, Kristina Gear of Preferred Travel of Naples was advising her clients along the same lines. People are anxious to travel simply because they haven’t been able to for so long, but Gear wants to be sure the agency doesn’t have to rebook the trip, yet again. Jim Augerinos, owner of Perfect Honeymoons, also advises telling it straight to clients and to not encourage them to get back out there just to get the booking. He paints the picture for clients who are traveling of what it will be like to be tested for COVID along the way, and just when and where masks will be required. His take is that those who do travel sooner rather than later will have a remarkable experience because there will be no crowds for now; that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will soon vanish.
There was also good news from those destinations where the vaccine is being rolled out efficiently. Israel is seeing strong bookings from the U.S., as are those Caribbean islands where all the residents have been inoculated. Cruises are being reserved for late 2021 and 2022, in particular, the larger suites. Private homes in Europe are hot ticket items. One advisor lamented that “bucket list” trips across the world for 2022 are already selling out, but she also sees this as a very positive sign.
In other news, New York State, where I live, has opened up vaccinations to hotel workers, since they may come into contact with those forced to quarantine. It’s uncertain which age group will open next, right now, only those 65 and older are allowed to sign up for the vaccine. The next group may indeed be much younger, since COVID here appears to be spreading most rapidly among those who are in the 20 to 40 age range. If that is the case, we will continue to see a group of consumers where one spouse can travel because they’re fully vaccinated but can’t/won’t go because the other spouse has no idea when they will be inoculated. Some of us, for now, are absolutely at the end of the line, which makes it a challenge to make travel plans.
That’s not a complaint, however, as we’re all going to be vaccinated soon enough and this nightmare will be behind us.
Back to the pulse of the industry: I’m seeing that many luxury travel advisors and suppliers have formed tighter bonds during this period. Suppliers are holding advisors’ hands as they navigate client bookings; they’re getting on calls with clients to relay exactly what the “new” travel experience will look like. It’s likely we’re a smaller industry post-COVID; certainly some advisors have fully retired and others have shut down, but many have been able to sustain their businesses and survive. Those remaining are stronger and more influential than ever and they’ll likely appreciate those suppliers who were there for them all these past months; particularly those who were flexible with down payments, refunds and transferring reservations to future dates.
My suggestion to all suppliers is that you hold the luxury travel advisor community in an even higher regard than before. Keep them close. Their clients’ dream trips have become larger in scale over the past year; affluent consumers are willing to pay even more for future vacations to make up for the void they’ve had to endure over the past year. They want to upgrade, spend more for an experience that delivers a bigger wow and they’re staying longer. The travel advisor’s ability to sell your top-line products and experiences is stronger than it ever has been. Even better? Advisors I’ve contacted said they are getting booking requests from consumers (referred by very happy existing clients) who never used a travel consultant before. These new clients who booked directly previously got burned during COVID when there was no one to help them get a refund for a cancelled trip or to even get information about their potential options. They now know not to go it alone and as a result, luxury travel advisors will be in higher demand to create meaningful, expensive itineraries in the months ahead.
Back to keeping it real; more than ever, travel advisors have to manage their clients’ expectations. As you’ll read on our roundtable of 30Under30, travel advisors are sticking heavily with domestic honeymoons for most of this year and have a cautious outlook as to when we’ll return to normal.
Other realities? Where does sustainable tourism fit in a post-COVID world? We’ll need to keep that discussion going now that some disposables are back because of the new necessary hygiene protocols. We’ll need to sort through, and heavily address, how we handle sustainable practices in the near future. The issues of yesterday have not gone away and we need to keep our planet healthy.
That’s it from the frontlines for now. Hopefully my letter to you next month will share even more good news and we’ll have moved ahead with the industry’s recovery exponentially. Onward!