We’ve gotten through the Inauguration of President Joseph Biden. The new administration is trying to take a national approach on both the distribution of Coronavirus vaccines and increasing travel safety by imposing mask mandates for air travel.
At the same time, experts are predicting new COVID-19 cases could be peaking in the next few weeks—although hospitalizations and deaths will lag for a few weeks after that due to the nature of the disease.
What this means for travel advisors is that the resilient desire by Americans to travel could see a boost by the end of February.
In their review of the 2020-21 ski season, the US Travel Association estimates that for the period between Thanksgiving and Jan. 17, 2021, 77% of the skiers visiting the top 25 U.S. ski destinations qualified as “tourists” versus locals, and 52% traveled more than 200 miles. Over about the same period in 2019-20, 83% of the skiers were tourists, with 55% traveling more than 200 miles.
Even after this past holiday season was over, about 71% of the skiers this January were tourists, with 45% traveling more than 200 miles. Remember, these individuals sought out skiing vacations as coronavirus cases were surging across the country, and the political atmosphere was on fire. Travelers are resilient, and they’re dreaming about vacations more as the national situation improves.
According to the latest round of research released this week from Destination Analysts, one of the premier travel sentiment researchers, two-thirds of consumers say the availability of vaccines is making them more optimistic about life in general, and the prospects of returning to a normal life in the next six months.
Nearly 60% say vaccines are making them more optimistic that they can travel safely within that same period, with more than a third now saying they have begun planning or booking travel in anticipation of wider vaccine distribution.
According to Destination Analysts, in the last week 38.7% of their survey’s respondents dreamed about leisure travel, 30.3% talked about travel with friends or relatives, and 27.0% researched travel ideas online.
For a professional travel advisor like you, this means YOU should be ramping up your marketing and communications now to find out who among your best clients and ideal prospects would be most interested in booking a vacation with you for later this year.
And never could the timing be better! Tuesday, January, 26th, is National Plan for Vacation Day. Just about everyone in travel, from small destinations to big suppliers, will be leveraging their marketing resources this week to remind consumers that now is the perfect time to imagine themselves laying on a beach, hiking through a state or national park, and visiting destinations that help them escape from our day-to-day difficulties.
What You Should Be Doing
So what specifically should you be doing?
First off – I’m hoping that since May 2020, you have been in fairly constant contact with your most loyal clients who travel at least once a year. At Travel Business Mastermind, we hosted a series of free webinars last spring, providing travel advisors with advice about how to triage their business and stay afloat.
One of the key points we reiterated throughout the sessions was the importance of using multiple communications platforms to show your concern for your clients, and remain top of mind with them.
The primary channel most of us use in normal circumstances is email. It’s fast, efficient and can reach the largest audience with a consistent message. Hopefully you’ve been sending out regular emails, talking about travel from an inspirational and aspirational perspective—helping your clients keep their travel dreams alive.
If you’ve also had the ability to sell certain types of trips—e.g. Mexico and Caribbean resorts, National Park vacations—by providing your expertise and information from your suppliers, more power to you. We’ve had several clients who over the last ten months were successful in promoting travel to places where restrictions were not an obstacle.
But you also should have been picking up the phone and calling, if for nothing other than to say “Hi. I was wondering how you are doing.”
Even if all you had was a chance to drop a voicemail to your top clients, that effort no doubt sets you up to get ahead of the curve now that the late spring/summer vacation cycle seems to be aligning closer with the medical and financial outlook for the country.
If you haven’t been doing that, START NOW! If Destination Analysts is correct, and consumers are dreaming more and more about their next vacation, you need to inject yourself into their planning mindset as soon as possible.
This could mean sending out an email that directly asks your clients and sales prospects: “Thinking of a spring/summer vacation?” Use that question in your email Subject Heading. In the message preview, continue that theme with something about how you have both ideas for them and the ability to be their 24/7 vacation care specialist, especially while they are traveling and needing someone else to sweat the details.
Make certain your emails have a few links to your website, and at least one link to your “book a consultation” calendar page. Send them to content on your website that is relevant to the places you would be recommending, and track who clicks through.
If you are seeing clients consistently opening your emails and clicking through, they are sending you a clear message that they are more interested than contacts who aren’t performing those behaviors. Develop vacation planning messages more customized for this subset of interested travelers about setting up time to speak to you.
As you see people opening your email, consider which ones you could call directly based on past experience with them and their email click through rates. For others, maybe you would want to send them a personal email asking permission to set up time for a call. In both cases, BE DIRECT.
Talk about how you are following consumer trends around vacation planning and how you would love to hear about what they are thinking—and that you are eager to help them choose from the best options you can provide them.
Don’t Be Intimidated
I know this has been a long haul and you have had your share of personal direct hits. And, sometimes, it feels awkward to talk about taking a vacation when so many people are still getting sick, and dying.
But not everyone is fearful of traveling. Not everyone has taken the financial hits to their income and savings. And if you can help them travel safely, for them, you could be a lifeline to hope by giving them something to dream about.
In the latest Destination Analysts survey, the percent of Americans who say they have trips at least tentatively planned this year jumps from 13.6% in April, to 19.6% in May – and continues to rise to a peak of 26.1% in July.
That’s tens of millions of Americans who are already committed to retaking control over their lives, their happiness, through travel. Will you experience some clients who are less than excited about your overtures? Maybe. But if you follow my suggestions above, trying to qualify those clients already interested in traveling, they will be few and far between.
All of us have been through the most challenging period in our lives. You are an advocate for the restorative powers of travel. Get out in front of the curve that is already rising, and start advocating for your clients’ deepest needs today.
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.