Interest in bucket list trips on the rise but long-haul flights still a no-go for many

Interest in bucket list trips on the rise but long-haul flights still a no-go for many

TORONTO — The term ‘revenge travel’ hasn’t taken off in Canada quite like it has in the U.S. – no doubt in large part because Canadians are still grappling with the non-essential travel advisory.

But the desire for all-out, no-holds-barred, trips of a lifetime is still strong with Canadians after 18 months of some of the longest stretches of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions of any country in the world.

Grand tours of Europe. Cruises of every duration and destination, and especially world cruises, which are flying off the proverbial shelves like never before. So-called ‘bucket list trips’ have been around for years but inquiries and bookings just keep trending up as clients look to recoup their vacation time losses, and maybe spend some pandemic savings, after a year and a half of COVID-19.

But the high tide isn’t raising all boats. Many travellers continue to shy away from long-haul trip bookings, and that’s reining in some bucket list dreams. There’s still a resistance to sitting on a plane for hours at a time, no matter what the airlines do to battle misconceptions about COVID safety onboard their aircraft.

FIRDOSH BULSARA, VICTOURS

Firdosh Bulsara, General Manager, Product & Marketing for Victours International, pulls no punches when asked about booking trends.

“I am going to tell you exactly as it stands,” says Bulsara. “At the moment, consumer confidence in long-haul travel has not grown to the level that we anticipated. Albeit I have several inquiries for African safaris, travel to Europe and even a couple of golf groups to Asia, travellers are definitely in a wait-and-watch mode as far as deposit and other payments are concerned.”

While Victours is best known for its Europe product, Bulsara’s arrival at the company several years ago, and his expertise in destinations including Africa and India, helped solidify the company’s expansion into longer-haul product. 

 “I have booked and confirmed travel for all our clients who were to depart in 2020 but couldn’t. The good part (business-wise) is that these clients did not cancel outright but have waited patiently to travel and will do so from late 2022 and also into 2023,” he says.

Here’s some more good news from Bulsara: bookings have come in for both Groups (another strong trend coming out of the pandemic) and FIT, for 2022, for Europe and for Africa.

With those bookings, staying nimble is crucial, so flexible booking and deposit terms are the default, he adds. “Some of them with a nominal deposit amount, at times, not due until 60-days out and with final-payment dates no earlier than 30 days prior to departure, some even 21 days prior. We have learned to build bookings based on the different requirements as stipulated by our various suppliers. Hence, in these days of post-COVID travel, each booking has a unique pattern. The days of regular terms & conditions and payment deadlines are long gone,” says Bulsara.

While long-haul travel has been slow to recover, there’s a “definite momentum towards high-end travel. We have even had private jet travel for families on short-haul holidays!”

He adds: “Not every one of our clients is looking to ‘splash’ on trips, but we are gradually succeeding in making agents realize the value of safer and healthier travel options which obviously come with a price tag. So far the response has been encouraging.”

We asked Bulsara if he had any advice for agents with clients whose bucket list includes a trip of a lifetime to Africa, potentially for a ‘Big 5’ safari. 

Bulsara says that for Victours, bookings to North & East Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda & Uganda) have been steadily gaining over destinations in Southern Africa. He says he believes that Botswana, Zambia, Namibia & Zimbabwe will recover faster than South Africa, as the delta variant throws a wrench in recovery plans.

Here’s what Bulsara is telling agents: “Keep in constant touch with your clients. Offer your clients timely updates on developing stories related to destinations as well as transportation, without overdoing it. Create a comfort level for the client by being upfront with them when situations warrant that they should consider re-booking. It would serve you well in the coming months. And above all, stay positive!”

And one more thing: “Since I have their attention, I wish to let agents know that I always look forward to their calls or e-mails, should they need assistance with their client’s customized travels to Africa, Asia or Europe.”

LESLEY KEYTER, THE TRAVEL LADY AGENCY 

Lesley Keyter, CEO and founder of Calgary’s The Travel Lady Agency, says she’s seeing cruising come in very strong for bucket list travel, “even though COVID started off badly for the cruise lines.” 

Keyter’s clients are looking to make up for lost time. “Our demographic is 50+ and as one gentleman told me, he and his wife retired and planned to travel for 10 years while they were still healthy and now COVID has stolen two years from them – so they have to ‘make it up’ with future trips that are longer and better.” 

Just what every agent wants to hear! 

About the cruise lines, Keyter says “their protocols are strong and we are seeing people extending their cruise itineraries with back-to-back [sailings], going up to 50 days of cruising. We are also seeing more requests for that special stateroom, concierge or penthouse and are finding that those are becoming a rare commodity.” 

To read the full article, with more feedback from Keyter, as well as Silversea’s President & CEO Roberto Martinoli, click here.