This is the first of a series of columns I will be writing for TRO over the next few months, trying to help bring some clarity around how travel advisors, suppliers, and destinations can adapt to the rapidly shifting environment Coronavirus has created.
During that time, I promise to sparingly use words like “unprecedented” or “new normal.” Those words are too often used with lazy ambiguity to avoid giving you the depth of knowledge you need to manage through this madness.
The fact of the matter is, we’ve never seen travel demand drop off this deeply and quickly ever in my lifetime (more than five decades and counting). And we’ve never had a seemingly immovable impediment like COVID-19, forcing our hands in what kinds of destinations and vacation experiences we can sell.
But, the other fact of the matter is, demand has not completely disappeared. Looking at the Airlines Reporting Corp’s ongoing reporting of airline tickets sold, traditional travel agents are booking about 20% of their 2019 volume, while Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are booking about 30%. There is money to be made as a travel advisor. How much is up to you and what your business model and cash flow requirements will allow.
If we look at ongoing research from companies like MMGY and The Harris Group, we can see distinct groups of Americans who are still very interested in travel. (This publication is called Travel Research Online. One of the reasons why I was eager to write for TRO is because I love data. It helps give people hope because it helps remove the despair of ambiguity. I promise to strive to use it to tell stories, and not get too deep into the details.)
For example, according to the latest Harris Poll, conducted over the July 4th weekend, one out of seven American adults would be willing to take a cruise within 30 days of the U.S. government declaring that we have flattened the curve of new Coronavirus cases.
Think about that. Potentially one out of seven customers you have in your database, who have taken a cruise or expressed interest in one, would be interested in you selling a cruise to them. Approximately one out of three adults told Harris they would be interested in taking a cruise within six months after the curve has flattened.
Additionally, nearly one out of two adult Americans said they would be comfortable flying on an airplane within six months of the number of COVID positive cases being flattened.
(An aside: This is why it is so important that as Americans we work hard to protect each other and ourselves. It’s not just good for our personal health and the health of people we know and love, it’s good for our economy and our businesses.)
In countries like Croatia, where they have been very successful in containing the growth of COVID cases, the national tourist board expects the country to record more than two million tourist arrivals in July, 54% of the visitors welcomed in the same period last year.
Croatia has reached 90% of last year’s July domestic tourist traffic and 78% of its domestic overnight stays, while foreign tourists are at 51% of last year’s July numbers. Germany, which like Croatia has also has been fairly successful flattening its curve, has sent 92% of the tourists it sent in July 2019.
That’s what some experts call “pent-up demand.” (Another cliched phrase I promise to not use in these columns. It won’t help you plan for success. Data does.)
Speaking daily with travel advisors, I know who some of those travelers are. I have one advisor friend who has already traveled four times this summer, including Orlando’s theme parks twice, South Dakota, and Jamaica. A half-dozen other travel advisor friends have been to Mexico multiple times. All of them tell me that when they post their travels on social media, they are getting multiple travel inquiries for vacations their clients want to take THIS summer.
But clearly, when you dive into the research (there’s that word again), you can see that some demographics are more likely to travel than others. According to the Harris Poll, 23% of males are interested in taking a cruise within 30 days of the U.S. declaring the curve is flattened, versus only 7% of women. (That might have ramifications for couples’ cruises.)
One out of four adults between the ages of 35-49 are interested in taking a cruise almost immediately, while just 11% of those 50-64 and just 3% of adults over the age of 65 are interested.
Like I wrote above, what this means is that you may need to adapt your business if you’re committed to staying in travel. If you loved selling cruises to retired couples, that strategy is clearly not going to work now, and perhaps, for a while. The Harris Poll’s results show that 53% of those ages 65 and older will wait a year or longer AFTER the curve has flattened, to start cruising again.
So, you need to ask yourself: How much of my business relied on retirees cruising? If they still want to travel, what else can I sell them? The Harris Poll shows that only 36% of that age group would wait a year or longer to visit a casino, and just 44% would wait that long to get on a plane. Maybe some of those clients would be interested in a Las Vegas vacation.
Despite how powerless COVID may make us feel at times, we are not powerless to shape our present and future. I’m not claiming it will be easy. It’s going to take an effort on your part that’s, shall we say, unparalleled, extraordinary. But taking back control is indeed IN your control.
So come along on this journey with me as we take back control of your business. I promise. It will feel like a vacation from the “new normal.”
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.