It’s been a busy couple of weeks for travel advisors. Everyone seems to be on the move again, checking out destinations and attending conferences, seeing friends after a long, long time. I’ve heard so many interesting comments about what’s going on the industry; here are some thoughts.
Last month’s Global Travel Collection conference featured a panel of Teen Family Influencers talking about what they found most memorable in their families’ jaunts around the world. The biggest takeaway: no two kids are the same, something travel advisors need to keep in mind when planning inter-generational trips. On the panel, Lucas likes “nature-oriented exploring,” such as the “scientific stuff” he heard during a tour of Pompeii; Benjamin likes to go off property and explore; Kyra wants to swim; Sofia “loves to sleep” and wants a great bed; Daniel likes to “read and relax” and wants a beautiful balcony on which to do it. Their favorite hotels were The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, Taj Exotica in the Maldives, the Rosewood in Hong Kong. The most memorable moments included an African safari, making linguini with pesto in Italy, and an Alaska cruise excursion on a seaplane to a restaurant floating on a bay, where they ate fresh-caught Dungeness crab. Resorts, tour companies, and cruises (and travel advisors, I would add) “should acknowledge the versatility of teen interests” and plan more excursions with other teens they meet on property.
Then Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain got tongues wagging when he said a smaller proportion of bookings has been coming from travel agents than direct; Norwegian president Harry Sommer told me the same thing back in August, and Frank Del Rio repeated it in NCL’s November earnings call. Travelsavers chief marketing officer, Nicole Mazza, agreed that “the volume of business not being captured by the trade is a concern.” While Travelsavers hasn’t seen a lot of attrition in the number of existing agencies, individual agencies have lost many advisors even as there has been “large growth” in Gen Xers using travel advisors for the first time. Now, “I don’t think the advisor community can handle the volume that’s coming through the smaller workforce,” she said. “But that will change. The larger agencies are starting to hire.”
Said Jesse Morris, owner of We Book Travel LLC, “65% of all job loss during 2020 was in the travel and tourism industry, and I am certain that quite a few advisors were lost. If I were an RCCL customer who booked with an agent, who is no longer in the business, I likely would book direct, as that’s the path of least resistance. What this does tell us is that there is a big market out there for the taking for those who can grab it.”
The Good News
But there was lots of good news and optimism. Many travel advisors reported surging sales and hopes for a return of family travel, as children begin to get vaccinated and their parents get boosters.
“I think, as more information comes out about the vaccine for children, parents will be more open to traveling internationally with their kids, says Lauren Capotosto Doyle, who herself is taking her kids abroad for the first time since the pandemic began. “I see that family travel will pick up, as parents want to make memories with their children.”
“Family trips are back!” says Dillon Guyer of Guyer Travel in New Hampshire. During the pandemic most of his clients were booking Myrtle Beach and other driving destinations, but now “most are back to flying if they can be vaccinated.” Among the highlights of recent bookings are “families headed to Maldives tomorrow, Greece next week, a few cruises, and one family going on an African safari in 2022.”
“This is a game changer for my clients; I have adventurous families who booked destinations abroad, cancelled, rebooked and then cancelled again based on a vaccine being available for their four kids,” said Jolie Colin Goldring. “To me this is one of the last green lights to feel almost back to normal. We will still have to navigate PLFs and testing but, at least for now, my clients are more likely to book further out and to more far-flung destinations.”
But that’s not true for everyone. “My clients aren’t rushing to get kids vaccinated,” says Randene St. Amour. “My families are generally rural and have told me from the start they don’t approve of anything like this being mandated. While many are vaccinated by choice, they will not get children this young vaccinated. They will travel with their families, as long as this age doesn’t get mandated. And if they do mandate, my clients won’t go.”
In Europe, meanwhile, traveler Rick Steves told The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/30/travel/rick-steves-europe-tours.html), “professional tour guides have been on hold for two seasons, and they’re just so filled with joy to be able to do what they do, because guides are wired to enthuse and teach about their culture and their art and their history. And it’s just so fun to be here and be filled with hope.
And while we’re still in the pandemic, we’re also coming out of it and there’s an energy in the streets.”
Hope that energy is coming your way. You’re going to need it as the floodgates open.
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.