Get (travel) revenge

Ready for the comeback

Why agents and the travel trade are optimistic about the future of travel

By: Ann Ruppenstein
Photos: Joshua Earle

Hope, at long last.

As the travel industry begins to start up after essentially 13 months on pause, many travel advisors are witnessing another turning point with the resurgence of bookings and inquiries. 

Travel Courier caught up with several members of the trade to understand why they are optimistic about the future, get the scoop on some of their forward-thinking strategies, learn about their shift to charging professional fees and how they’re priming up for revenge travel.

Reasons to be optimistic

Vacation planner and travel expert Ashley Doell, a travel consultant with TPI in Saskatoon, is feeling encouraged about the future of travel after seeing positive signs like the success of the vaccine rollout in the US and an uptick in inquiries from clients.

“Every customer, client, friend, or family member I speak to tells me that they can hardly wait to travel again. Most are just waiting for their turn for vaccination and for the government to ease the strict quarantine rules currently in place. Hearing this is so encouraging and brings me hope that our industry will rebound and come back stronger than ever,” Doell, who specializes in vacation packages and destination weddings, tells Travel Courier. “I’ve also noticed an uptick in inquiries this past month and it gets me excited for what’s to come.”

Doell’s most recent booking is for a destination wedding for January 2022. She also had clients travel over the holidays and in January, before the mandatory hotel quarantine measures were implemented.

“I think people are feeling encouraged by seeing the vaccines rolling out and are ready to get ahead of the ball with booking their winter getaway for next year. Now, more than ever, people just want something to look forward to,” she says. “They’ve also had very limited options for ways to spend their expendable income so I think the first trips post-COVID are going to be more extravagant than they were in previous years.”

Doell and her clients are hopeful that measures like the hotel quarantine will be lifted by the time of their travel dates, nine months from now.

“The landscape for travel in the future is still very fluid, so it’s important for me to ensure my clients fully understand the terms and conditions of their booking,” she explains. “Flexible change/cancel terms from suppliers are going to be a necessity moving forward into this rebound. Lastly, I’m ensuring that anyone booking for 2022 has a quality insurance policy and they also understand the terms and conditions of that policy. 100% of new bookings I’ve made in 2021 have added on some form of an insurance policy.”

Doell believes the ongoing vaccine rollout is positively impacting inquires for future travel.

“As we get more and more of the population vaccinated I think people can see a glimmer of hope — a light at the end of a long tunnel that maybe they can take a trip this winter,” she says. “The majority of people are wanting to take the early steps of planning and discussing their travel plans but I haven’t seen a big surge in new bookings just yet. I think that will be just around the corner. This summer and fall could be very busy for the travel industry!”

Changing Strategies

Back in September 2020, the TPI advisor overhauled her business structure and implemented professional fees.

“I also made it clear how I’m compensated as an agent and that I don’t get paid for quoting, booking, changing, or cancelling trips,” she says. “I will spend the first 5-10 minutes chatting with a client, but from that point forward I now charge to move forward with researching, quoting, planning, and answering questions. We are a professional service with a vast amount of knowledge, and it’s about time we start charging accordingly.”

Doell shares that being open, honest and realistic has been paramount during the pandemic.

“Everyone is looking for the ‘answer’ to: When will be a good time to book? Do you think we will be traveling this winter? Do you think we will need a vaccine to travel? When do you think the quarantine rules will change? And I think it’s important to be realistic and clear that we don’t have those answers and if a client is going to book travel right now they need to be very comfortable with either changing their plans down the road, or conforming to whatever the ‘rules’ are when it comes time to take the trip,” she adds. “I’ve been telling clients that if they don’t feel comfortable traveling with the rules currently in place and they are also 100% against vaccination to circumvent those rules then I don’t think it’s the best idea for them to be booking travel just yet. I don’t think we are going to be travelling like ‘normal’ with no vaccination and no quarantine by this winter but that’s just my own opinion.”

Overall, Doell thinks travel will be forever changed post COVID-19.

“There are some things that will eventually go back to ‘normal’ but there’s some things that will be sticking around forever,” she says. “I think FAM trips will be something that are highly sought out and it might be more difficult than ever for agents to claim a spot on one. I know many agents are going to be chomping at the bit to get out and travel and experience travel post COVID-19 so they are better equipped to show their clients what that looks like. I really hope to see suppliers give as many opportunities as possible for agents to get back to travel and experience it first hand.”

skills to succeed

Lindsay Schile expanded her skill set by participating in an Alacrity Digital Marketing Bootcamp at a time when her agency continues to be seriously affected by the impacts of COVID-19.

“Reduced staff meant I have had to branch outside of my comfort zone and try to dive into other areas of the industry that normally would not be my responsibility,” Schile, the manager and groups coordinator for Chilliwack-based travel agency CM Travel tells Travel Courier. “I think it is important for all of us to continue to learn and grow. There is always something to learn when it comes to travel.”

Schile says the ongoing vaccine rollout has helped ramp up interest in getting clients travelling again.

“People are feeling more confident that travel will reopen by the end of this year and are starting to look forward. The unknown of when our restrictions in Canada will start to lift is a bit tricky to navigate but I think 2022 will be a rebound year,” she says. “The end of January started bringing some light into our office. I started seeing new inquiries. With tougher restrictions and many areas of Canada going into lockdown again, more and more clients started reaching out. I think people are tired and frustrated. While so many of us are doing our best to stick to health protocols, it is taking its toll mentally. Having a vacation booked and to look forward to can help change that.”

On a personal note, Schile has a group tour booked for November in Belize and Guatemala that was already postponed from last year, and so far, all signs are leaning towards it being a go.

“In fact, I have taken advantage of a few supplier promotions right now for personal travel. I truly believe that we are in a ‘plan now, travel later’ situation, but this is a case of supply and demand,” she says. “Prices will increase as we get closer to easing restrictions.”

As for the future, she says, the more re-opening plans set forth from cruise lines, tour operators, countries that are released, the better she feels about what’s next for the industry.

“Travel for the short term is going to look different. What that difference is, will depend on the destination but I think masks are here to stay for some time, vaccines may be required with some suppliers and possibly by some countries,” she predicts. “It is an ever-changing climate and as discouraging as these current restrictions are, there is much to look forward to. I think we as agents, need to keep our clients informed about the good and the bad, and help guide them to make the travel decisions that are right for them. Hopefully, by this time next year, we will all be talking about the trips we just took, the FAM’s we participated in, or the bucket list destinations we are about to embark on!”

Ready to fly

Even though multiple provinces in Canada are currently in lockdown, Air Canada’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Lucie Guillemette is feeling optimistic about the future as well. Not only did the airline hit an “inflection point” announcing the reinstatement of regional routes, refunds and that it won’t be recalling agent commissions, the newly appointed President of Air Canada Vacations says some markets are showing “more resiliency than others and we are absolutely ready to capture those opportunities.”

Based on data and trends from other destinations such as the US, Guillemette foresees a faster recovery taking place than they initially thought.

“We’ve been looking at these demand curves for over a year, and we were always saying this will be more of a U-shaped curve, it will take time, but our belief is that when things do start to recover, there is certainly several segments of the market that will recover rather quickly,” she explains. “I actually think based on what we observe elsewhere in other geographies that maybe a V-shape is what’s in store for us.”

When asked by Travel Courier which segments of the market she believes will rebound first, Guillemette points to two key drivers: VFR and leisure travel. For this reason routes like Doha and Cairo will be essential.

“In this environment, these are the types of markets that are showing a lot more resilience,” she says. “There is a lot of Canadian originating traffic, some of it is longer-stay, and those are all markets that are opportunities for us so we are taking these opportunities seriously.”

In terms of leisure growth, Guillemette notes that Air Canada will shortly be announcing its international plan for this year.

“Given that it has become apparent that the leisure markets are showing some resiliency, particularly for the winter, we want to lock in our schedule early so we again give customers and all of you assurance that what we are loading into the schedule is what we actually intend to fly,” she added. “We’ve looked at our fourth quarter, first quarter for sun routes, we are starting to see customers have appetite to start booking. This is quite frankly why we thought it was important for us to put a stake in the sand here.”

As vaccinations roll out, Air Canada anticipates that restrictions will start to ease, borders will reopen and new protocols for travel will be implemented.

“Full transparency, since the start of this pandemic, we’ve navigated through this with a set of assumptions — if this market reopens what can we anticipate, if this other jurisdiction was to open… and all of those assumptions basically have been guiding us in terms of how to establish our network, where we should fly, and so on,” she explains. “There’s no doubt with the acceleration of vaccinations in Canada, we have to look at that and be hopeful. And also, based on what we’re seeing about how quickly the demand recovers in other countries, when vaccination levels arise or travel restrictions are lifted, I can assure you that when we say pent up demand, I think we mean it.”

Previous Post

Secrets to success on the road to recovery

Next Post

Travel predictions for a brave new world