TORONTO — The end of 2022 looks nothing like the start of 2022, and for the travel industry, that’s a wonderful thing.
Bookings are coming in fast and furious, as the demand for travel after two and a half years of the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down.
It’s a far cry from the grim days at the start of this year, when sometimes it seemed like travel restrictions would be with us forever.
Travel advisors tell Travelweek they couldn’t be happier with the upswing in bookings.
That’s true even when they’re working with clients to book increasingly tight space for the late December holiday break. Always a popular travel time especially for families with school-age children, the holiday break is going gangbusters this year.
Bernard Cote, Transat’s Director, Marketing, Public Relations and Social Media, says that as far as holiday travel is concerned, “destinations like Mexico and the D.R. continue to be tremendously popular with travellers, families and adults alike.”
The tour operator’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers gave travellers a lot of deals to choose from, he added.
According to a recent survey by Visa Canada, over the holidays international travel will make up 75-80% of pre-pandemic travel volume. And while 70% of Canadians surveyed say their travel plans have been impacted due to current economic factors, such as inflation, (surpassing last year’s leading factor of health concerns brought on by the pandemic), 42% of Canadians surveyed say they’ll be travelling internationally this holiday season.
Travelweek spoke to several travel advisors across Canada for a quick snapshot as we get ready to wrap up 2022.
“25+ DECEMBER BOOKINGS BY APRIL”
Cambridge, ON-based travel advisor Caitlin Lajeunesse, part of the Independent by Flight Centre network, says she had December holiday break bookings come in all the way back in the spring. Whether those early bookings were fuelled by the sheer joy of being able to book travel again in those early days, or a scarcity-mindset with clients determined to lock in their travel plans before everyone else, the end result is that Lajeunesse had more than two dozen December 2022 trips booked some eight months out.
She says: “What was surprising to me was how early my clients booked for winter travel this year. I had over 25 bookings for the week of Boxing Day/New Year’s on the books by the end of April. I’m so happy my clients booked early as the prices are high and availability is very slim!”
Ashley Doell, a Warman, SK-based travel advisor with TPI, says her December holiday break clients booked early too. Sticker shock has been an issue and that’s prompted some clients to look outside the December high season.
“I think with prices being higher than ever and availability being at an all-time low, people are trying to opt for more affordable times of the year to travel,” Doell tells Travelweek.
‘Affordable’ is now a relative term, as prices stay high no matter what the month, and deals are few. Clients have mixed reactions, says Doell. “Some people are shocked by the high prices, but I am definitely seeing people up their budget accordingly and spending the extra that it will take to have the same experience that they have come to expect regardless of what it costs. Then there are the travellers who are stuck in the 2018-2019 budget range, and think they can get a family holiday for $5,000 or less. It just isn’t happening this year and I’m not sure it ever will again!”
Doell is working hard to get her clients where they want to go, but she’s frustrated by the lack of connections. “From smaller centres like Saskatoon, once those little connectors to Toronto or Calgary are full, it leaves us with not a lot of options for packages. Some flight routes take 24+ hours to get to where you’re going. This isn’t just for December break, this is for the whole upcoming winter season.”
She adds that her destination weddings business is recovering well: “I have had more advance destination wedding group bookings than ever before at this time in the year. Usually I see those trickle in February – April for the following year, but I already have three weddings next year and more inquiries are rolling in.”
“DEFINITELY DECEMBER PRICES ARE HIGH”
Paulette Soloman, owner of The Travel Store in Charlottetown, PE, says “definitely December prices are high but we feel that is consistent with past years, it has usually been an expensive time to travel.”
Luckily for PEI residents, in 2023 there’s an alternate two-week break opportunity that’s perfectly timed for a winter vacation. From Feb. 18 – March 5, 2023 Prince Edward Island is hosting the Canada Winter Games. Students get a two-week school holiday, making it an ideal time for a family getaway.
“In terms of availability that’s where we are seeing things getting booked up,” says Soloman. “Already we are seeing full plane loads in February, and the requests keep pouring in.”
“EAGER TO GET GOING AGAIN”
Sheila Gallant-Halloran, owner of Lush Life Travel (an affiliate of Vision Travel), says her December bookings are strong too – particularly for river cruises.
She connected with Travelweek from a Rhine cruise herself. “The river cruises, especially Christmas market river cruises, are very popular. I have at least eight different cabins of folks going over the next couple of weeks. With the markets pretty well stopped or extremely limited for a couple of years, folks are eager to return. I even have some folks doing a river cruise over New Year’s Eve.”
To read the full article, check out the Dec. 1 issue of Travelweek here.