As 2020 draws to a close – good riddance! – what will the new year bring to the travel industry?
As we confirmed during the pandemic, the travel industry and its trusted pillars – professional travel counselors – are incredibly resilient and ready to get back to work, in the skies and on the world’s waterways.
We spoke with several senior hospitality and franchise operation executives about what they expect in 2021 for the industry and its travel agents. Not surprisingly, the word “optimistic” has been used repeatedly.
“I am extremely optimistic about 2021. My personal opinion is that the first quarter is going to see travel rebound strongly for several reasons,” said Susan Ferrell, president and owner of Travel Experts, a luxury hospitality agency that is part of Virtuoso. “First of all, the news about the vaccine is a huge psychological boost that will help people make calls to plan their trip. They cannot travel immediately, but they will start booking for later in the year or the following year. Second, cruise line executives are working feverishly to get ships afloat with new health protocols that will alleviate fears of contamination, so the cruise will return as quickly as possible. “
And when the cruise resumes, travel counselors will be front and center, advising clients and offering expert advice.
“While the cruise industry has been hit hard, I have no doubts that travel counselors will spearhead a resurgence,” said Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of franchise operator Cruise Planners. “Cruise Planners’ priority has remained our travel counselors and their clients. We were able to continue the conversation and relationship building during this time and many of them are willing to travel. In fact, our customers are passionate and loyal cruisers, and they will be among the first to get back on the water once sailing resumes, which we hope will be in the first half of 2021. ”
Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group, a host agency, said the new COVID-19 vaccines are fueling some desire to travel again.
“I think there is heightened optimism now that vaccines are starting to flow and business from the summer of 2021 and beyond is starting to pick up,” she said. “At Nexion Travel Group, we focus on supporting our advisers in the resumption of their activity. Some are ready to start marketing more aggressively, while others are not. For me, the important thing is that they connect with their customers and be inspired by them. Advisors cannot sell based on their own risk tolerance.
“Many of our advisors are considering rebuilding their businesses. It gives them the opportunity to reposition themselves, ”Friedman said. “I encourage every advisor to take advantage of training and certification programs, learn new skills and learn more about products and destinations. Taking those steps now will help them position themselves for the next normal. “
Fee said it’s likely some experienced travel counselors with high-rent storefronts may have to shut down – but may choose to use their skills to run a more flexible home-based business with a host agency or franchise network.
In fashion now
“Unfortunately, some businesses will not survive this pandemic and may need to find a host agency to affiliate with and switch to a home-based model to eliminate significant overhead costs,” Fee said. “I think the survivors will be the ones with the collective strength, and we hear from many travel counselors who are struggling with their current affiliation and looking for a franchise that will help them move forward into 2021.”
On the positive side, these organizations are seeing more activity.
“We are already seeing an increase in leisure bookings as well as airline tickets and we hear daily from customers who want to ‘go somewhere’. Our member travel counselors tell us that they have secured advance reservations for trips protected by penalty-free cancellation clauses, ”said Ferrell. “We’re also seeing interest in Caribbean travel for the winter now that some islands have relaxed their quarantine regulations and hotels have reopened. When the coast is clear, so to speak, the demand will be enormous. I think 2021 will be a good year.
Fee said Cruise Planners have seen a change in consumer behavior – they “need more answers to their questions, are confused by the changes, and sometimes falter in their confidence in the cruise, so we anticipate that the role of the travel counselor will break everything. down, guiding customers in travel decisions and instilling confidence – all of this will be key to moving forward.
There is already interest and reservations for some destinations.
“The cruisers want to sail, and now that there is a plan to work on reopening the cruise, reservations are starting to pour in, especially for the end of the second quarter and beyond,” Friedman said. “The small vessel and river cruise trade is doing well, especially for the second quarter and beyond. We have had great success in changing group reservations. We see good deals in small groups, as a few families or close friends form groups and seek to travel together. “
Fee has aroused great interest in Alaska and Europe.
“We expect Alaska and Europe to be very popular in 2021, especially in Europe, which continues to be a popular destination, accounting for almost 25% of our future sales,” said Fee. “The advisors will also continue to educate and advise clients on future cruise vacations available for 2021 and beyond as people book. The resilience that our industry leaders and travel consultants have shown is admirable – we continue to nurture their positive attitude and tireless efforts as we navigate these uncharted waters. “