TORONTO — It’s been a wild ride for travel these past three years, with the pandemic wreaking havoc on just about every aspect of the industry. With border closures, ever-changing health and safety protocols, varying country requirements and the emergence of new strains of COVID-19, unprecedented fluctuations have been seen not only in bookings and demand, but also in booking windows.
When travel first started to resume in 2021 following its near-global shutdown in March 2020, booking windows shrank down to just a few weeks, with travel-starved Canadians desperate to get away. But since then, windows have drastically fluctuated due to the erratic nature of the pandemic and the ups and downs of air travel, with consumer confidence going along for the ride.
Fast forward to the start of 2023, on the heels of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring that the end of the pandemic is in sight, suppliers and travel agents are finding that booking windows have somewhat stabilized, a tell-tale sign that travel – and life – is well on its way to returning to normal.
“We saw a dip in our average booking window from seven weeks in 2019, to five weeks in 2021,” said Io Meinhard, Sales & Marketing Executive at HAGGiS Adventures (Radical Travel Group), part of The Travel Corporation. “The closure of international borders due to the pandemic had a big impact on bookings from Canadian travellers, who are part of our key target markets. Instead, we welcomed more travellers from the UK and Europe, which might be the reason for the shorter booking window during 2021-2022.”
Today, in 2023, Meinhard says booking windows have stabilized and are “very much on track to being back at 2019 levels.” She credits the “huge increase” in Canadian passengers for helping to bring back these longer booking windows, something he says benefit travellers in the long run.
“Longer booking windows allow for more control over the customer journey, meaning that there is more room to build anticipation and trust with our passengers. It also means that there is more flexibility to tackle unexpected booking amendments or external interruptions affecting our itinerary, our accommodation suppliers or the visitor attractions we use,” adds Meinhard.
African Travel, Inc., also part of The Travel Corporation, is seeing similar trends in booking windows, says Sherwin Banda, President. With travellers still hesitant to travel in 2021 and 2022, Sherwin tells Travelweek that pent-up demand for bucket-list destinations and wide open spaces like those in Africa is now driving current bookings.
“Booking windows have definitely stabilized to the point where so many travellers who have waiting have now created a situation where we can’t meet the needs for clients wanting to travel now,” says Banda. “If you speak to any travel professional – certainly we can see the trends here at African Travel – our demand has increased significantly.”
With African Travel’s tailor-made safaris, ideal for those looking to travel sooner rather than later, Banda says two- to five-month booking windows are what the company is currently seeing. With small-group departures, on the other hand, travellers are booking a little farther out as they’re often vacationing with family or friends. With luxury travellers, Banda says they’re booking far in advance “because they have the time and the disposable income to travel, and they’re making their decisions a year in advance because they’ve already got the following years planned.” And as for groups and special occasion clients, booking windows are a even longer still since they need the appropriate time to plan.
Travelweek also checked in with several travel agents to ask what they’ve been seeing with regards to booking windows in 2023 so far, compared to 2021 and 2022. To read the full article, check out the March 2 edition of Travelweek here.
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