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If there’s a silver lining coming out of the pandemic, it’s that travellers are increasingly drawn to using a travel agent.
“People are seeing the real value of a travel agent because of all that’s happened,” said Richard Villeneuve, president of Voyages en direct, during a recent panel discussion on the future of travel. “This is huge for us. We’re capitalizing on that.”
Increasingly, Villeneuve says there’s even a shit among the younger generation who previously booked directly now also turning towards working with professionals.
“That reassurance of okay, I went through a lot of challenges during the pandemic, cancellations, [lack of] communication, I need somebody I can trust, I want to make sure I have my travel agent. We’re seeing that resurgence, we’re seeing that in trends,” adds Erica Doyne, SVP marketing & communications at AMResorts, noting that they are putting a lot of effort into resources and tools to help agents capitalize on this momentum.
Romance makes a comeback
Jennifer Doncsecz, president VIP Vacations, noted that their groups are doubling in size across the agency. Prior to the pandemic destination weddings were roughly 15-20 people on average, whereas now they’re booking 40 to 50 rooms.
“People are wanting to celebrate now,” she says.
Similarly, Tim Evans, the president of Modern Travelworks, is also witnessing a rise in destination weddings as well as group travel.
“Also, whatever is trending on TikTok, that’s where people want to go,” he says. “Tulum was huge this year.”
Revenge travel and higher budgets
In addition to the rise of the travel agent, Doyne says pent up demand for travel is increasing.
“What I find the most interesting trend that I see is that of revenge travel,” she says, describing the term for people who have the urge to travel after months and in some cases years of travel restrictions and lockdowns.
Notably, Villeneuve says price is no longer the most important factor driving bookings and clients have a budget that’s 25-35% more than they would have invested in holidays prior to the pandemic.
“The travel budget is bigger than it was ever before and that makes a difference,” he says. “It’s another opportunity for us to capture those clients and help them live a better experience. They want to make sure their next trip is a good one. The demand is there for sure, they miss traveling.”
Meanwhile, Doncsecz agrees that pricing isn’t as important as the value that a vacation provides and suggests that packages include the cost of COVID testing and insurance, which would go a long way with clients.
Focus on alternatives
Since many destinations remain closed to travellers or have strict restrictions in place, Doncsecz says she’s found success by focusing on alternate destinations. For example last winter while Hawaii had lots of rules and testing measures in place, the agency marketed Costa Rica as an alternative with great success.
VIP Vacations also did a social media campaign showcasing closer to home alternatives to popular destinations like Fiji and Thailand.
“It brought consumers from wanting to book direct to booking with advisors,” she says, adding the confidence of working with a travel professional is also driving bookings. “We are here, we know the rules and regulations.”
Along with Costa Rica, she predicts Saint Martin will also do well next year.
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