TORONTO — Just a few short weeks ago, with the travel advisory still in place, the Canadian travel industry was wondering if the upcoming winter travel season would be 2020 all over again.
But then the travel advisory lifted, and suddenly winter 2021-2022 was looking a lot more like the light at the end of the tunnel that travel agents and tour operators have been waiting so long to see.
Even more surprising, bookings for the December holiday season are already ramping up.
And what’s truly astounding is that some families with young children – always a key market for December travel in normal years – have found a work-around to the challenge of travelling with unvaccinated kids age 11 and younger, who require two weeks away from school and daycare upon their return to Canada, as per the federal government’s travel restrictions.
The solution? Take the kids out of school a week before the two-week holiday break.
Says Sam Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer for Sunwing: “We’re noticing an emerging trend with families booking pre-Christmas getaways (around mid-December) with children under 12 missing the last week of school for a family getaway. This is likely so they can use their two week Christmas break towards their 14 days away from school following their return to Canada, and then [they can] return to class as normal in early January.”
Taylor adds that Sunwing is seeing growing demand overall for holiday travel this year. The biggest surge is coming from adults booking group vacations and couples looking for romantic getaways, she says. “We’ve also noticed an increase in last-minute bookings for all inclusive vacations, which we anticipate will continue as we get closer to the peak holiday period.”
Over at Transat, December bookings are also strong, especially for the best-known resort brands, says spokesperson Marie-Ève Vallières. “Customers are mainly drawn to well-known brands with facilities they are familiar with and where they feel fully taken care of,” she says, adding that the the majority of ITC bookings coming in are for 4.5* and 5* hotels.
In terms of clientele, says Vallières, Transat is seeing a gradual return to its more traditional segments, not just for the upcoming Christmas season but on all bookings: mostly couples, followed by families and solo travellers, spread across all demographic segments. “Our data is clear: Canadians are looking forward to their vacations in the sun,” she says.
Nino Montagnese, VP, Air Canada Vacations, says popular hotels are still available for the moment, “however, given that there is a global pent up demand for leisure travel, hotels are seeing high occupancies and prices are increasing.”
Adds Montagnese: “We’ve definitely seen a ramp up for Christmas break over the last few weeks, with a good volume of sales in all the Caribbean markets. Mexico and the D.R. remain our most popular destinations. Our message for agents with clients asking about Christmas break getaways is ‘Don’t wait! Your favourite hotel may not be available for long.’ Of course, this extends beyond the holidays and into the entire winter season. Customers looking to escape should begin planning their vacations as soon as possible to secure their preferred hotels and activities before they’re gone.”
INVENTORY FILLING UP FROM U.S. AND OTHER MARKETS
Travellers from the U.S., UK and European markets have been booking up 2021 holiday break inventory for weeks, if not months. Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts have several sold-out dates already, says Maureen Barnes-Smith, VP, Sales & Marketing Canada for Unique Vacations Canada Inc.
“Christmas and New Year’s bookings are absolutely ramping up. We’re seeing demand similar to pre-pandemic levels at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts with several sold-out dates already. In fact, some clients are booking now for Christmas 2022,” says Barnes-Smith.
She adds: “While there may be some limited pockets of availability for the 2021 holiday season, my message to Canadian travel advisors is simple: don’t delay, secure that booking for your clients today! And really, that applies to ALL travel periods, not just the holiday season at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts. Advisors can secure their client’s next worry-free vacation with us as far as four years in advance. And believe me, many do.”
Holiday bookings are brisk for Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts too. “Without a doubt, we are seeing the highly anticipated sales boom for all our destinations. The desire to enjoy special dates with the family, to soak up the sun, sea and white sand beaches, and to create an unforgettable holiday is even stronger this year, after so many restrictions,” says Dennis Vondenhoff, Bahia Principe’s VP Sales, U.S. & Canada.
He notes that “U.S. travellers are doing their best to get back to normal, and they really haven’t stopped travelling in the last year. The reopening of European markets, the ongoing strong demand from the U.S. and the resurgence from our beloved Canadian market, gives us extremely busy dates, especially at the peak of the holidays. We see it equally in Punta Cana, Samana, Jamaica and Mexico.”
Vondenhoff adds that while there’s still some availability in most hotels for the Christmas break, “especially with the Canadian market back at full force, we recommend booking your clients’ trip as soon as possible, to make sure their preferred hotel and/or dates are secured.”
“FAMILIES WITH KIDS UNDER 12 ARE STILL RELUCTANT TO TRAVEL”
Families with older school-age kids – i.e. the 12-and-up crowd who are already vaccinated – are also booking December getaways, says Faith Sproule, owner, Niche Travel Group in Nova Scotia.
“We have had quite a few families booking for Christmas recently,” says Sproule. “There are a few good direct options from Halifax on Dec 18/19th for families to take advantage of and they feel confident to travel.”
Sproule points out that most of the families booking with her agency have teenagers, “as families with kids under 12 are still quite reluctant to travel.”
Getting their youngest kids vaccinated is still priority #1 for most families, far and ahead of a holiday getaway. But even if families are willing to take their unvaccinated young kids on vacation at year’s end, and deal with the 2-week impact, PCR test costs are still a hurdle.
And while it’s refreshing to have just one major hurdle instead of several, the cost involved – up to $200 per person – is considerable especially for families of four or five people.
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