TORONTO — Travel agents and suppliers are still reeling from the winter season suspension and stricter travel measures announced Jan. 29, but the travel industry will survive, and ultimately, flourish, David Green, VP Commercial, G Adventures tells Travelweek.
In this op-ed piece Green offers his insights, predictions and perspective as the industry faces its toughest times since the pandemic began.
“We are still navigating without a map, but we can’t stop moving,” says Green.
“While it’s easy to be blindsided by Friday’s further hard-hitting restrictions for travel, this announcement should not have come as a surprise and we can’t let it demotivate us.
“The fact is people are booking – in fact we just smashed our targets for January, so thank you to all our partners who are working hard to keep people’s future travel dreams alive.
“The pent-up demand is there, and it appears further lockdowns are resulting in more intense wanderlust.
“While this is hopeful news, there is no doubt the travel industry has been hit harder than most, and whilst we fully support the need for ever evolving policies to tackle the spread of the virus, the fact remains that COVID-19 cases linked to international travel account for less than 2% of all cases.
“In Canada, we’ve had a ban on all but essential travel into the country since March of last year and as of last month – with little advance warning – anyone travelling into Canada had to provide a negative PCR test within 72hrs of arrival.
“In addition to these strict policies, travellers will now also have to undergo mandatory testing on arrival, which for the record, most of us in the industry have been suggesting for months.
“And with robust track and trace measures in place, surely we’ve done enough to give the industry some stability as part of our recovery plans?
“As for mandatory hotel stays if you test positive, sure – but why now and not months ago as was the case in other countries?
“The irony of the political situation we find ourselves tangled up in is that while we face increasing restrictions, we still lack a roadmap to help see us out of this pandemic.
“While we know vaccinations are ultimately our way to the other side, we are missing clarity on how the roll-out will enable the window for international travel to creak open.
“At what point will governments come together and recognize that this is a global pandemic and recovery will involve a strategic global approach?
“For example, Saga in the U.K. has said all passengers must be vaccinated before joining a cruise, and Qantas has suggested that they, and possibly other airlines, are likely to insist on COVID-19 vaccinations before people can fly internationally.
“At what point will we start to see that legislation reflecting vaccinations can act as a substitute for all these other rules, and how will these rules be lifted and tracked?
“These are some of the issues a roadmap will need to address – and we need this transparency to get people physically flying again. It’s going to happen, so plan for it now – involve our industry, give us a voice and an ability to plan for the inevitable policies coming our way.
“While they might not be travelling right now, what people are doing is booking – and we need to keep them booking. Current restrictions don’t help us with short term travel, but I appeal to everyone not to give up hope. We need more government support to protect the industry, and we’ve got to come together to change the narrative – the message needs to change from stop travelling, to Book Now for Travel Later,” says Green.
“TRAVEL ADVISORS WILL BE NEEDED MORE THAN EVER”
Speaking directly to travel agents, Green says: “We know how tough this past year has been, and we want to give you all hope. We have evidence from this past month that people are booking now, and they will continue to do so. Now is your moment to re-engage with past travellers and find potential new travellers.
“We need to be optimistic, keep travellers engaged and keep the industry moving. The pent up demand is there right now – waiting will mean missing out and stretching your teams further when a roadmap emerges, clarity begins to form, and restrictions start to ease.
“We need to bond together and do what we do best as travel experts. We need to continue to connect with customers, knowing the desire to travel in the future is omnipresent. Green shoots are visible and it’s our role to nurture them and not let the uncertainty of the current political situation fog our long term vision.
“Our aim at G Adventures is to inspire, to promote a ‘book now, travel later’ mentality, and to keep our promise to deliver life-changing experiences. As our founder, Bruce Poon Tip, says ‘we were born explorers’, so let’s not let these restrictions close the door to travel even temporarily.
“With flexible booking terms and the changes implemented on tours to keep travellers safe, we are confident in our ability to answer any concerns our partners have, so we encourage agents to look beyond the current restrictions and keep communicating with their customers for longer term travel in late 2021 and into 2022.
“Not only are people ready to make travel plans to look forward to, but many are looking at a better way to travel by choosing community tourism. In a recent survey we undertook with consumers, 77% of Canadians said what is most important to them when they ‘retravel’ is that their money benefits local people, so we’re optimistic not just about a return of travel, but a shift towards travel that gives back.
“It’s our view that travel advisors will be needed more than ever before and will be essential to the recovery of the travel industry. They have a direct line to the customer and can act as a trusted source of information at a time when customer confidence has taken a huge knock.
“This is also an ideal time for agents to be up-skilling, completing supplier training, and learning about better ways to travel so we can make a difference on the other side of this pandemic.
“Our biggest opportunity now is to change the narrative, we need to be optimistic, we need to create the WILL for future travel, and we need to inspire with a ‘Book Now, Travel Later’ mentality.”