They’re ready to again fam-iliarize themselves with the world.
Several Toronto-area travel agents who have remained in this country as the coronavirus pandemic put a major damper on international travel say an improving situation means they’d be happy to once again go on fam trips, confident that a combination of safety protocols and a growing percentage of the world’s population having been vaccinated leads them to believe that a fam trip will be safe.
“Let me preface by saying that as a senior I need to be more careful about infections like COVID, but I also believe in modern medical science and I’ve done the right things,” says Paul Nielsen of Paragon Travel. “I have paid a non-refundable deposit on a fam for October. I am completely confident in the host and Mexico’s safety and security precautions, and I’m looking forward to an educational and enjoyable week.”
It’s been three years since Nielsen’s last fam, with the veteran agent reporting that he invests his money and time carefully, wanting to maximize the benefit to himself and his agency.
“Interest in travel is ramping up quickly but with the USA jumping the gun, availability for Canadians is weak (except for Cuba of course),” Nielsen continues. “My booked fam will do three things: 1. Invigorate my own love of travel. 2. Increase my knowledge of a hotel company I have never experienced and 3. Increase our agency’s credibility through knowledge and experience.
“This is my first trip outside Canada’s borders in two years and I can’t wait. Making this deposit has caused travel to dominate my dreams and I expect to be committing more budget infractions real soon.”
Rudolph Nareen of Astor Travels says he wouldn’t have any hesitation in going on a fam these days, convinced that destinations and hosts alike will be strict when it comes to safety. He adds that travel now is “very low risk” for those who have had both vaccinations.
“I have not travelled since December 2019, I am considering going to Amsterdam for four days this month and I can share my experience on the airline’s and the destination’s safety,” states Nareen, who’s also considering going on an August cruise.
Pat Probert of Bob Family Travel says he would have no qualms about going on a fam, including a cruise. The cruise industry’s image was badly damaged during the initial stages of the pandemic, when coronavirus outbreaks occurred on several cruise ships.
“I would have no issue going on a fam or travelling on any cruise ship now with all of the protocols prior to boarding and even when clients are on board,” he says. “In reviewing a number of protocols with one of our largest cruise lines, Celebrity, they have extensive checks and balances in place to ensure the safety of all guests on board. At last check, very few unvaccinated guests are on some of these ships and they must wear masks at all times, they are not allowed in some places on the ships, including the gyms or spas. Also, non-vaccinated guests are required to pay for testing, which can be in the US$175 price range. Unvaccinated guests are required to book a Celebrity curated tour, and depending on local government requirements, unvaccinated guests may be further restricted from going ashore.
“When it comes to river cruises, Uniworld is at the top of their game, with lots of protocols to keep our guests and ourselves safe and I am looking to take over 100 (clients) on an upcoming Uniworld cruise in the spring in Europe, and all clients that are presently booked are excited about the new protocols and are looking forward to travelling.”
Probert says if he was choosing an all-inclusive resort, he would opt for a higher-end one, confident that safety protocols are more stringent and crowds less.
“There are so many amazing properties that have lots of room at the resorts and on the beaches, so it is important for agents to review space ratios at different resorts. Send me a ticket for an all-inclusive, ocean or river cruise and I am on my way. Given that I am double vaccinated I will not have to quarantine when I come home, other than getting a test, which I support.”
Probert hasn’t been on a fam in a couple of years and he believes “now more than ever it is time to get some travel advisors on some tours, land, ocean and river, to share the great times that await our clients. My partner Mary de Almeida and I have a huge following and we would never do anything or go anywhere that would compromise the safety or security of our friends and clients. We travel the world and they follow and trust us so we cannot wait to get back on a fam to show them.
“Of course we would not accept just any fam. It would have to be one we feel safe and where we have researched it. We do not need to go on a fam for a free trip but to do what is right and experience it so we can share with our extensive client base why it is getting time for them to start thinking of booking now before prices get out of reach. With so many great deals and generous offers from companies like TravelBrands, Air Canada Vacations and others now is the time while crowds are lower.”
Probert says business has seen a huge upsurge this past spring, with over one million in Uniworld River Cruises for next spring in a very short period of time. Alaska cruises with Celebrity have been a huge hit as well and most of their clients have booked Railbookers tours while in Alaska.
“Clients are spending lots at this time to make up for what they missed,” Probert continues. “We have seen another great boost in bookings the same day it was announced double-vaccinated Canadians will not have to quarantine in a hotel if they are travelling. It has not slowed down since and we are now finding more and more bookings to the Caribbean and Mexico for this fall.”
Meanwhile, Probert believes agents should be willing to go on fams, stating it will show clients that agents support and believe in travel, and give clients confidence that travel is safe.
“They know if we felt it was not safe we would never do it. I personally feel it is now safe to travel in the coming few months. In fact I am looking to start my travel plans and have already booked a cruise for October with Celebrity. Then in February we are taking a large group on Regent for 10 days travelling all over the Caribbean and in May we will be on Uniworld Beatrice, travelling to more than six countries in one trip, including extended pre- and post-trips. In fact so many people want to do more when they end their Uniworld River cruise in Budapest I now need two buses to hold the clients who want to go. We also have other trips planned for 2022, so we are getting in all of the trips that were cancelled and so are our clients. We have many clients doing three and four large trips in 2022 and we have never seen this volume of business and bookings in the past. Next year we expect to exceed our 2019 sales numbers, making up for the losses of 2020/2021.”
Probert, who hasn’t travelled since returning from Florida in March of 2020, is also looking at a Silversea cruise in either the Caribbean or Antarctica in fall or early January “so our clients can see some of the world through our eyes so they will know it is safe to travel.
“The travel industry needs to get out on some fams now as some will be so busy they may not have time to travel. We believe in leading by example and as travel is in our blood we know the world will travel again sooner rather than later as people do not want to stay at home. Get vaccinated and get travelling. The world may be small but there are millions of places to go.”
Fully vaccinated Roger Boyajian of Sevan Travel hasn’t been on a fam since February of last year but he’s looking forward to once again travelling.
“A fam trip will be very useful for travel agents to reconnect with the travel industry,” he says. However, Boyajian warns that coronavirus hasn’t yet disappeared and coronavirus variants found in many countries are concerning.
“We have to be very vigilant in our decision to travel abroad, since many countries are not 100% safe,” he cautions.
But Boyajian hastens to add that he’s welcoming the restart of international travel.
“I am looking forward to open borders, since the travel industry almost collapsed and we are suffering tremendously from the restrictions imposed. We need the business to recover and survive. However our health is the priority and if people are not vaccinated and are not healthy we cannot expect them to travel.”