It doesn’t feel right to talk about business as usual when we are confronted daily with the destruction of lives and monuments of civilization in Ukraine. It seems unseemly to gush about good news while such a horror is ongoing among people who look like they may have been just like you and me a month ago.
Nevertheless, there is some good news, and it’s important to recognize it, and to feel gratitude, remembering that “there but for the grace of God go I.”
One month into the attempted conquest of Ukraine by Vlad the Terrible, we see that his project has failed miserably. It doesn’t erase the tragedy and horror of so many whose lives and homes have been destroyed; but it might provide a little solace knowing that strong spirits are what has kept a giant military power from dominating a relatively small country populated by rank-and-file citizens who are just not having it. They are determined and steadfast in the resolve. What Vlad and his military men calculated would take only hours, now looks like it’s never going to happen.
The Russian government now says it’s revising its strategy to focus on holding the eastern provinces of Ukraine that it claimed to be “liberating” at the beginning of this mess. It looks like taking over Kyiv may be just too expensive. So, this is good news. It’s much better than what almost everyone expected when the invasion began February 24.
So perhaps we are seeing what Churchill called “not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning.” Ukrainians have not submitted to Russian rule, and at this point they look unconquerable. That is some very good news. Through all the destruction, the mess that has been made of Ukraine, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
This is big, and I think we’ll come to realize its value increasingly as we go forward. I believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be seen as a watershed moment. COVID changed the world profoundly, and now, even before we’ve had a chance to reckon with the change from the pandemic, this geopolitical event has changed the world radically, again.
Still, life must go on, however it can, wherever it can. And we all have many of the same daily concerns we had a month ago: to keep putting food on the table, and to keep our businesses and professions on track in preparation for whatever may come next.
As to conducting business considerations during wartime, people in the travel industry have an edge; because travel really is one of the forces for peace in the world. That is no joke, no pretense, not just a marketing slogan. So, as we pick up our things and move forward, we must ascertain the lay of the land. And from the point of view of the travel industry, the horizon looks surprisingly bright, considering everything the industry has been facing.
MMGY Global’s latest Portrait of American Travelers shows that the travel boom that began as COVID has receded, has not been knocked out by the war in Ukraine.
Based on interviews with 4,500 people, carefully sampled using the knowledge gained from 32 years of taking similar quarterly snapshots of the travel industry landscape, the study determined that three-quarters of Americans plan to take vacations in the next six months. That’s up from 62 percent a year ago, which was at that time seen as a boom, as COVID was thought to be in retreat.
The isolation and confinement of COVID has produced a mountain of pent-up demand, and many travelers are intent on making up for lost time. People are no longer seeing COVID as a barrier to travel.
People coming out of COVID will travel a little differently than before. The human touch is, not surprisingly, more highly valued than before the pandemic. The number of people using Online Travel Agencies has dropped from 24 percent to 19 percent. Cleanliness, air filtration, and hygiene protocols are seen as much more important than before.
Also, people are more interested in purchasing from companies that demonstrate environmental responsibility than before the pandemic. Eighty-one percent of travelers will now change their travel behaviors to reduce negative environmental impact. This preference is stronger in the younger demographics.
The sample was taken on March 4, only about a week into the invasion of Ukraine. At that time 47 percent of Americans who had been considering travel to Europe said they would hold off to see how things played out on the continent. That figure has likely changed during the past month.
The Vacationer conducted a survey to ascertain the effect of the invasion of Ukraine on travelers. It found that 14 percent have reconsidered traveling both domestically and internationally, and 25 percent are holding off on international travel only. But the vast majority, 60 percent, are not changing their minds or their plans. This survey was taken March 1, only a few days after the start of the invasion.
I did some informal, anecdotal surveying myself, speaking to some tour operators to see how things look from where they stand. The picture I got directly from the front lines reinforced the picture we’ve gotten from the surveys, that demand for travel remains strong—even during the war in Ukraine.
Terry Dale, president and CEO of the US Tour Operators Association told me that, while he had not yet surveyed the membership officially, he has been hearing anecdotally that “bookings are holding to Europe and demand is healthy.”
Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours, said, “While I cannot speak for Europe, Latin America and Africa have remained constant, as have areas in Asia that are opening. It helps that more countries are lifting testing requirements for entry.”
Even higher fuel costs causing higher air fares are not deterring demand. “The pent-up travel demand seems to be insulating our industry a bit from the true effects, both of the war, and its economic impact back home, the way it’s impacting other industries,” said Mr. Sanghrajka.
For the Globus family of Brands, one of the world’s largest-volume tour operators, the demand for Europe seems to be holding up. Steve Born, chief marketing officer, told me, “In terms of bookings, travelers are once again showing their resiliency. Over the past month, the Globus family of brands has seen a very small drop-off from our new booking pace of February, less than 10 percent. And that change is concentrated in countries adjacent to Russia and the Ukraine.”
Nish Patel, president of Mayflower Tours, says that, “A few weeks ago—as the war started—we took quite a few cancellations for our European cruises. But now it has stabilized. New bookings to Europe have slowed down as our travelers wait to see if things change. Many of our travelers have decided to switch to North American tours for 2022.”
Conditions remain pleasant for Pleasant Holidays, according to Jack E. Richards, president and CEO. The war has not had, “a material impact on Western European vacations, which continue to increase as more countries fully reopen for tourism. Budapest, Hungary is the only country we are seeing soft demand for, likely due to the geographical proximity to Ukraine. Travelers continue to book vacations closer to home in 2022, including Mexico, Hawaii, USA, Caribbean, Central America and Tahiti. There has been no decline in travel demand since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.”
Pleasant Holidays also reports good news in regard to COVID. “Trip cancellations driven by the Omicron Variant earlier in the year are declining, and we expect a surge in bookings during the remainder of the year,” said Richards.
Bruce Hodge, president of Goway Travel, tells us that, “Except for Eastern Europe and Russia, most areas of Goway’s globetrotter world have definitely picked up for inquiries and bookings. Although we can’t measure it, it is logical that there must be reluctance to book travel because of the war… particularly to Europe. From a business point of view, this easement of demand therefore must be helping us catch up with the otherwise pent-up demand, which is a good thing.”
From Central Holidays, we are hearing heartening news. “Surprisingly enough, the interest in travel and influx of calls is steady,” said Maria Merino, vice president of operations. “Travelers are longing to venture, and are reaching out to secure space to our European destinations, as well as Egypt and Latin America. Egypt remains a best seller, along with destinations such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and the UAE.”
Furthermore, she said, the war has engendered a new spirit of care and involvement among travelers. “We believe that people are getting involved and investing in helping those affected by the war, while looking at the future with hope. And, therefore optimism about the future and the resilience of the American traveler is revealed in the continuous and active search for travel destinations.”
While many of us continue to be on the edge of our seats, wishing and hoping for an end to the destruction in Ukraine, I feel that we are beginning to see a new horizon, when the war will be over and people from all over the world will travel to Ukraine to show their love and to help rebuild that great country. The thought of that gives me good feelings.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.