What kind of trips are agents booking these days?

Searching for signs of life

By: Ann Ruppenstein

In a typical year, the winter season is a busy time for travel advisors, fulfilling requests for clients who are eager to escape the cold and soak up the sun.

However, this is anything but a typical year.

With all flights south curtailed until the end of April and new quarantine measures in place in the midst of a global pandemic that has turned the industry upside down for the past 11 months – are any bookings happening or is it drier than the desert out there?

Read on as travel advisors, agency owners and tour operators weigh in with their insights. Surprisingly, it’s not all doom and gloom. 

Intrepid travellers are dreaming big

Matt Berna

Intrepid Travel

After enduring a year cooped up at home without travel, many people are looking ahead to make up for lost time with a bucket list worthy trip into the wild.

“For North Americans who are searching for their next big trip, with a booking lead time of nearly one year, our largest international booking growth numbers for North American travellers are in Galapagos, Madagascar and Antarctica, truly away from people and integrating with wildlife,” Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s managing director in North America, tells Travel Courier.

In the meantime, Berna also says there’s been increasing interest in Intrepid Urban Adventures’ range of At Home Online virtual experiences among Canadians who are at home during lockdown.

“Whether it’s a Vietnamese cooking class with a local or a cocktail making class in Mexico — [these tours are] transporting stuck-at-home travellers into a country’s heart for a local-led experience,” he says.

The small group adventure travel company is also seeing a bigger focus on micro travel experiences that are locally focused and participatory as travel resumes.

Travel’s ability to connect and educate people is unlike any other industry. As travel businesses we must provide these micro-level experiences through local operational capabilities, ensuring all levels of our tours are giving back to locals,” he adds. “When travel restarts and into its future, instead of simply thinking about where you’ll travel next and that big dream vacation, we’re encouraging our travellers to shift the focus to the regenerative ways people must travel—like supporting local communities and human rights through community-based tourism, or getting into a country’s heart at a micro level, putting our dollars in locals’ hands and businesses—so we can economically, socially and emotionally empower and support people and the planet.­”

Bookings? What bookings?

Even before the introduction of PCR test requirements for all arriving passengers and the suspension of flights to the Caribbean and Mexico, travel agent Cecelia Russell with The Travel Agent Next Door says her clients weren’t travelling as they were in lockdown.

“Until vaccinations are in full swing and COVID numbers are minimal, with the lockdown in effect no one wants to travel now,” she says. “Clients are looking at late 2022 into 2023 before travelling internationally again. A few are staying in the area on day trips, walks and hiking.”

Groups are big business

Caroline Hay

TPI

Looking to the future, Caroline Hay, national director of sales & marketing for TPI, points out three trends for the top vacations being booked right now among its agents.

“One: groups. Clients are forward planning into 2023 with small groups to catch up on celebrations that they have missed out on, with their friends and families,” she says. “Two: cruise. Our cruise sales are through the roof, with new ships, new itineraries and great offers, the cruise clients are taking advantage of all the benefits and value added programs available.

Three: luxury. Clients are looking for more personalized higher end vacation options, and our partnership with Virtuoso lends very well to ensuring our advisors have access to the best products all around the world to customize journeys for clients looking for unique exclusive travel experiences.

An uptick in private bookings

Robin Brooks, Director of Marketing and PR, North America at Exodus Travels, says there’s been an increase in demand for private tours for groups of families and friends travelling together.

“It’s a trend we are seeing come in strong for future holidays,” she says. “Another big shift is skipping big cities and planning to visit lesser-visited destinations instead. By venturing away from bustling tourism centres, not only are you getting away from large gatherings, but you’re also able to bring tourism dollars to small communities who have suffered immensely since COVID began.”

Cruising forward

Stéphanie Bishop

Globus family of brands

Thanks to partnerships with its retail network, Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director of Globus family of brands says their cruise business is sailing away with new growth and opportunities.

With help from advisors, we’re inviting new travellers – including those in their 50s – to discover the river and small ship cruise difference: A travel style they can bank on in 2021 and 2022. Kick-starting 2022, advisors are also proactively inviting travellers to use their future travel credits. In addition, fall 2021 sales are strong – with a healthy mix of those using travel credits and new bookings – raising hope for better days. 

Flemming Friisdahl, founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, also points out that they are “surprisingly seeing a lot of cruises, river cruises being booked, ” as well as coach tours.

“I mean it is not at the levels it used to be, but still quite a few,” he says. “We are also seeing wedding groups for 2022 and beyond.”

Similarly, Rhonda Dashevsky of Personal Travel Management also says clients are looking more into 2022 and booking a lot of cruises.

“Most of these are smaller ship journeys, yet people are still booking the big ships when they hear the changes that have been made to ensure safety,” she says. “There is also a demand for those bucket list journeys and more small-group and ‘bubble’ trips. There is also far more demand for and questions about insurance.”





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