TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed travel forever. In this fourth and final instalment of our coverage from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey, agents share their fears for the travel industry, the opportunities, and their thoughts about what’s ahead.
The survey, sent out in late April, received responses from close to 400 agents across Canada.
The cruise industry will see some of the biggest changes when it comes to travelling in a post-pandemic world, with experts predicting everything from individually ventilated staterooms, to health screenings, to possibly restrictions on cruise passengers based on age and/or pre-existing health conditions in the early weeks.
For all types of travel, agents polled in our COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey also predicted smaller group sizes, more travel insurance purchases, river rather than ocean cruising in the early phases, more bookings to lesser-travelled destinations, shorter booking windows and more stringent health protocols in destination.
Asked about their biggest fears for the travel industry, as we head into a third month of lockdown and the global travel shutdown, agents had this to say:
- “The wait time for things to turn around could put a lot of companies out of business.”
- “People’s faith in companies and refunds. Will this happen again?”
- “Airline fares will soar, large ship ocean cruising will not recover for many years, insurance rates will soar, insurance companies will reduce their coverage, many tour operators will close, less capacity and fewer airlines, less disposable income for travel due to the economy.”
- “That any sight of a spread of anything in the future will be an automatic shutdown.”
- “When & how it will recover (storefronts), as well as what our workforce will look like after this too – there will definitely be people who walk away after this!”
Ultimately, though, travel is an optimistic business, and few industries have faced the disruptions that the retail travel industry has faced, and survived nonetheless. Asked about opportunities post-pandemic, many agents had their sights squarely on the future, whatever it brings…
- “I think people will want to work with local travel agents. Those that used online websites to book and couldn’t get through to them will remember hopefully the travel agent that helped them out and call them 1st for their next trip.”
- “Working with suppliers that had our backs and moving people away from other companies that didn’t.”
- “More people will start getting balconies for cruising vs inside cabins. Some people will try to get some of their bucket list items completed.”
Several agents say the opportunities are out there even now. “The opportunities are right now. Get your name out there. Make sure people know what services and value you provided DURING the crisis. People are going to want to spread their wings and your name needs to be in their minds!” said one agent.
Adds another agent: “I think everyone has learned a lot from this crisis. I see more flexible change/cancellation policies, greater support of travel agents, I see better/faster lines of communication between suppliers and agents, better technology, speed, fluidity and adaptability in the industry for dealing with large volume changes and crisis.”
More importantly, says another agent, “I see a large influx of people wanting to travel once it is safe.”
Allison Wallace, VP, Corporate Communications & CSR, The Americas for Flight Centre, notes that the industry is definitely ready to move forward. “The key will be consumer confidence. People are starting to book for 2021 but in terms of next month, there’s still a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. The government is still saying avoid non-essential travel and it’s not clear yet how ‘open’ the destinations are. There’s also a lot of questions around quarantining once you land at your destination and of course, Canadians are still required to quarantine 14 days after they return home. Those will all factor in on whether or not people will book.”
The first story in Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey series (‘Tough times won’t defeat resilient industry’) can be read here. The second story (‘Supplier relations, vouchers and more’) is here. The third story (‘Who will travel first, and where?’) is here.