TORONTO — First it was the lack of insurance coverage for COVID-19 – but a raft of new insurance offerings unveiled in early fall eased those concerns.
The 14-day mandatory quarantine is an ongoing issue, but especially for travellers who work from home, with limited contact with others, it’s do-able.
Now there’s another common refrain from clients: “I won’t travel until there’s a vaccine.”
What’s an agent to do? We checked in with marketing expert Steve Crowhurst for his take on effective travel marketing strategies that maximize the country’s focus on COVID-19 vaccines.
“For sure people will want to travel knowing they have some protection,” said Crowhurst, who has written several e-guides geared to marketing ideas for travel agents.
While at first it looked like Canadians could hope for vaccinations to start by the end of 2020, now it looks as though it will be well into spring 2021 for mass vaccinations to get underway.
“The push back in time could be more than a few months as the vaccine may not be released immediately in Canada,” agrees Crowhurst. That time frame “once again favours the home-based agents with little expense to maintain their presence.”
FIVE MARKETING TIPS
Crowhurst says that as Canada digs in for the months-long wait for mass vaccination, agents may want to take the opportunity to get creative in maintaining communication with their clients, to continue the marketing and to slowly evolve into setting up small groups for vaccinated travellers: “They will be the initial safe bet.”
A new survey from the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) indicates that while 80% of Canadians say they plan to travel in 2021, 53% of Canadians say they will only begin making cross-border travel plans when a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
The THIA’s 2020 Smart Traveller Survey was conducted in October 2020 with 1,000 responses from across Canada, from consumers ranging from ages 18 to 60+.
Here are 5 marketing ideas to get started, courtesy of Crowhurst:
1. Plan or promote small groups for vaccinated travellers. Proof of vaccine required.
2. Promote ‘Give it a shot! Have vaccine, will travel.’
3. Start an ‘I’m vaccinated and ready to travel’ list.
4. Encourage clients to get vaccinated ASAP if they wish to get back in the air.
5. Start a ‘Vacation Vaccination’ promotion: ‘A Little Jab’ll Do Ya!’
WHAT CLIENTS ARE SAYING
Travelweek checked in with three travel agents, to ask what they’re hearing from clients about travel and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am finding everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to travel,” says Sandra McLeod with RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON. The majority of her clients are 50+, 60+ and beyond. “Some or our snowbird clients have gone to their winter homes in Florida. Others are planning on going in February. The majority is planning for later in 2021 and 2022. Some of that is due to the travel restrictions imposed around the world and for cruising.”
McLeod says she’s heard only mild talk about waiting until a vaccine is available. “I think if the numbers around the world start to drop and travel opens up, many will want to go. Since cruise is a big part of my business a lot depends on when the ships start sailing. I have clients booked from mid-2021 and on.”
Adds McLeod: “We can only hope the vaccine becomes available and people actually get vaccinated. As one doctor said, ‘Vaccines won’t help until people get vaccinated’.”
Lisa Booth with Expedia Cruises, The Beach in Toronto, says most of her clients are taking a wait-and-see approach, adding, “I think that once there is a vaccine, Canadians will be more open to travelling.”
Meanwhile Booth herself has booked a cruise for a much-needed vacation. “I’m making a payment in full on my July 3, 2021 cruise, but at the same time I’m hoping that there will be a vaccine. With this hope in place, we’re proceeding to complete our final payment.”
Booth says she’s posted about vaccines one of her Facebook pages, where many of the members are American. “Those that take the time to comment, about 2/3 are looking forward to a vaccine. Once there is a vaccine they will consider travel,” says Booth.
“The other 1/3, it’s a strong NO. No vaccine for them. But this 1/3 is also the same group that will travel right now to where ever Americans are being accepted.”
THE AGE FACTOR
Not surprisingly, age can be a big factor in the travel-or-not-travel debate. Sandra Weber, a travel agent and manager with Merit Travel, says: “When I speak to clients who are in an older age demographic, they often bring up the vaccine and how this will hopefully allow them to travel again sooner. The dialogue with clients in a younger age bracket aren’t usually steered towards the vaccine, and they are more so just eager to travel again sooner than later.”
And on the bright side, some people are travelling pre-vaccine. Weber says one of her friends just left for a vacation in Mexico. “Some people have also travelled during this time, in fact I have a friend who left for Mexico yesterday and he was quite pleased about the COVID-19 insurance coverage – so it’s all a bit of a mix right now.”