TORONTO — What was supposed to be an easy 90-minute flight home from New York City to Toronto ended up being a 24-hour ordeal for Audrey Wong.
The 44-year-old retail executive from Toronto decided on a whim last month to travel to New York City to visit family, despite reports of massive delays and flight cancellations at major airports around the world. But Wong, who up until now had always booked travel on her own, was advised by her new travel advisor to pack only carry on, have all her documents organized and, if possible, avoid busier airports.
The flight to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) with Porter Airlines went relatively smoothly. The flight home, however, was a different story. Due to a scheduling conflict, Wong had to fly home with Air Canada from New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Toronto Pearson (YYZ), both of which have been racked with flight delays and cancellations in recent weeks due to unprecedented travel demand and staff shortages.
Her 8:30 p.m. flight was delayed three times before being cancelled altogether by Air Canada. She managed to book a flight home the following day that departed at 9:30 a.m., however that flight was also pushed back two times due to a technical issue from an earlier flight. It wasn’t until after 2:00 p.m. that her flight finally took off but upon landing at Toronto Pearson 90 minutes later, the plane was forced to wait for an available gate for 45 minutes. An additional 30-minute wait soon followed due to staggered deplaning of passengers.
Wong didn’t arrive home until 8:00 p.m. later that night, a full 24 hours after her original flight time. But even after all that, she still considers herself lucky due to one saving grace – her travel advisor.
“The entire situation would have been that much more stressful and chaotic had it not been for my travel advisor rebooking my flight home,” says Wong. “She remained calm, optimistic and knew exactly what to do. And even though I was travelling alone, I never felt alone because I knew she was only a phone call away.”
When asked whether she would continue booking with a travel advisor, Wong was quick to respond.
“Absolutely,” she says. “I don’t know why I waited so long to do so. The pandemic has made travel really complicated and stressful. Having that feeling of white-glove service from a travel advisor is invaluable. I won’t book another trip without one.”
Wong isn’t alone in her thinking. According to Travelweek’s 2022 Consumer Survey, which was answered by 719 consumers from across Canada in June 2022, 58% of respondents said they are now more likely to seek out the services of a travel agent when booking their trips.
“There is no question that the global pandemic reinforced the importance and value of booking with an agent,” says Saj Hossain, Retail Operations Leader, Flight Centre Canada. “We’ve had many loyal repeat customers coming back to book their holiday with us this year, along with a number of new customers who traditionally have self-serviced their holidays. Those new customers are now looking to book with an agent and are willing to pay for their time and expertise.”
Here are more results from Travelweek’s 2022 Consumer Survey:
We’ve all heard about ‘pent-up travel demand’ for months and even years due to the pandemic, and now the numbers actually prove it. When asked whether they are currently making any travel plans for 2022, an overwhelming 71% of survey respondents said yes, while 29% said no. Sixty-four percent said that they feel comfortable travelling again now that Canada’s advisory against non-essential travel has lifted, compared to 28% who said they are not yet comfortable, while just 8% said they are not ready to travel at all.
Just under half (49%) of respondents have been able to save money throughout the pandemic that may be allocated towards future travel, compared to 37% who were unable to save and 14% who have saved but won’t be using the money on travel. When asked whether they are likely to splurge more on travel this year compared to previous years, a majority 44% said yes while 25% said no. An additional 31% said they will travel but with a budget in mind.
Canada came out on top among all other travel destinations, with a majority 33% of respondents saying they would stay within the country this year for their travels. Europe ranked second (22%) followed by the Caribbean (18%), the United States (16%) and Mexico (4%).
In terms of travel styles, sun & fun won out, with 36% of respondents preferring a beach vacation, followed by History & Culture (18%), Cruise or River Cruise (17%), Adventure (14%) and City Break (10%).
“While cruise, adventure and city escape bookings are increasing, beach vacations are definitely proving the most in demand,” says Hossain. “After having been locked down for over two years, our customers are looking for a stress-free holiday and a beach vacation offers just that. Mexico is our top sun destination, with Cancun and Riviera Maya being the most popular spots within the country.”
As for the United States, with borders now reopened on both sides, 60% of respondents that they are likely to travel to the U.S. compared to 40% who said no. Of those who said yes, 29% are likely to take a sun and beach holiday in the country., 26% would prefer a city break, 20% would visit a small-town destination, 14% would travel for nature or national parks, and 11% would book the U.S. for entertainment and theme parks.
Of the possible deterrents to travel right now, 32% of respondents said high prices were their biggest concern, followed by airport lineups and delays (26%), a possible new wave of COVID-19 (21%), uncertainty over travel rules (15%) and the added costs of pre-departure COVID-19 testing for countries that still require it (6%). When asked whether they have noticed higher prices for travel this year, an overwhelming 88% of respondents said yes.
“The price of travel has indeed increased and that seems to be the case for so many goods and services as we have seen in the past several months,” says Mike Foster, CTC, President, Nexion Travel Group-Canada. We are seeing higher prices in hotels, airfares, car rentals, insurance and food and beverage. But one of the few areas that haven’t seen prices increase to the same degree is cruise travel.”
Noting the various factors driving the price hikes, including fuel and energy prices, labour, supply and demand and, also, companies looking to make up for two-plus years of business losses, Foster urges travel advisors to be flexible when working with clients.
“Advisors need to look at options and alternatives in terms of destinations, time of year and even duration of travel. They need to set expectations and make clients aware of the market dynamics and that the cost of travel has increased,” adds Foster. “Advisors need to focus at the outset – before doing any research – on asking good questions to learn more about the client’s wants, needs and budgets so that they align expectations with the realities of today’s marketplace. They need to do all that before diving into their research.”
Despite higher-than-normal prices, the good news is that many travellers have not swayed from their travel plans this year. Thirty-two percent of respondents said higher travel prices will not keep them from travelling in 2022, compared to 26% who said that they’ll be avoiding travel due to prices (42% were unsure of how high prices will impact their travel plans).
Massive delays and flight cancellations at Canada’s major airports have dominated headlines in recent weeks, adding a stain to what has otherwise been a robust recovery period for the Canadian travel industry. Forty-four percent of respondents said that they would consider cancelling or deferring their 2022 travel plans if delays persist, while 28% said that nothing will stop them from travelling this year, not even airport delays.
Noting how it’s been a frustrating time for the travel industry as a whole, Hossain says that Flight Centre Canada has heard from customers about their concerns about whether their vacation plans will be directly affected by the airport delays and how long these issues are expected to last.
“The biggest concern is not knowing what to expect when they get to the airport along with what options they have should they run into any issues,” he says. “We’re not seeing a high number of cancellations due to airport delays as of yet, likely due to the fact that most of our customers believe this is a short-term problem, with the situation already showing signs of improvement.”
Also dominating headlines in recent weeks has been the war in Ukraine, which has greatly impacted tour operations in Eastern Europe. Forty-three percent of respondents said that the war will make them less likely to book Europe this summer, compared to 25% who said no and 32% who said they will rethink travel plans in Eastern Europe only.
Another major issue has been long processing times for passports in Canada as travellers rush to book travel amid the easing of travel restrictions. Luckily, this has had little to no impact on respondents, with 82% saying that their passports are already up to date. Just 3% said they have had to cancel or defer their travel plans due to passport delays.
The pandemic has proven that anything can happen at a moment’s notice, whether it’s the reclosing of borders, the return of travel restrictions or flight delays and cancellations. With this in mind, 82% of respondents said they are more likely to purchase travel insurance for future trips after seeing the impact the pandemic has had on travel.
Other trends born from the pandemic include working holidays (31% said they would consider one compared to 69% who would not), and long stays (40% said they are likely to travel for a longer period compared to 60% who said they are not more likely to book a long stay).
And when asked what will be the most important consideration when booking travel, 44% of respondents said “flexible change/cancellation policies” followed by price discounts (30%) and low COVID-19 cases in destinations (11%).