In my home state of Maryland, we are in the predicted fall surge or COVID-19 with no real hope for vaccine availability until the spring or summer of 2021. The situation is likely the same where you are. The first cruise ship to begin re-cruising in the Caribbean is experiencing a COVID incident. This virus is not going away, so we are likely stuck in this travel holding pattern for another six months at least. But are you ready when the demand returns?
First of all, the demand WILL return. It always does. The trick will be for us all to keep it all together until it does. But I think the travel landscape will look vastly different based on recent signals.
Take that cruise I mentioned (Sea Dream 1) seven passengers have tested positive. Not bad on a 3,000 passenger vessel. But this was carrying 53 passengers. That’s 13% of the passengers! How difficult do you think it will be to sell any cruise when they can safely return, much less the Symphony of the Seas with 6,600 passengers?
I don’t mean to disparage the cruise lines and cruising. But we need to think realistically about how fast the return to “normal” will be? There will always be a market for what we knew as a “mass market” product; but the smart agent of tomorrow will be looking into smaller, more intimate travel experiences for their clients.
And I am not alone in my thinking. Globus and Cosmos announced a change to their groups in July of this year.
With an average of 20 guests per departure, in 2021, travelers will enjoy a Small Group Discovery that promises room to roam, while getting up-close and personal to fascinating places.
–Steve Born, CMO
This is one of the largest group tour operators in the world who is reducing their group size by more than 50% to make people feel more comfortable.
Last week, I looked at an old issue of Travel Weekly and there was a cover photo of some Caribbean beach resort just packed with people. Will that ever happen again? I doubt it.
Until there is a readily available and proven vaccine, people will remain crowd-averse. But with a little investigation, there are plenty of alternatives for smaller individual or group travel. Work on your FIT skills. Seek out and establish relationships with the river cruise suppliers and small ship companies. Connect with small boutique hotels in the destinations you sell. Identify local guides that can offer their services in small groups.
The appeal to travel in a post-COVID world will not only be exploration and discovery; but one of safety. Become the travel professional that can provide that appeal and you will stand out from the crowd (pardon that bad pun).
And keep in mind, that we had a global pandemic in 1918 and this one came more than 100 years later. Many believe that the next pandemic will be coming a lot sooner. And the more prepared we are for it, the better we will be able to handle it for ourselves and our businesses.
All of our businesses are currently on “pause.” The biggest mistake we can make now is to assume that once “play” is pressed, that the song will pick up right where it left off.