If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
TORONTO — The most-used words and phrases for 2020 are unlike any other year, and underline just how historic 2020 really was. Words like ‘unprecedented’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘new normal’, and phrases like ‘never waste a crisis’.
Taking our cue from that last one, we checked in with retailers and suppliers to hear their thoughts on the biggest takeaways from 2020, and the outlook for 2021. As we say good-bye (and good riddance) to 2020, here’s what industry colleagues are saying as they look back on this history-making year…
“More than most, the word resilience comes to mind to describe the ‘annus horribilis’ lessons that have factored in 2020. Survival is another, and I think most of us, very quickly once things shut down, put ourselves in survival mode and donned our resilience armour. An important lesson has also been to care for each other, offer support, understanding and patience. Staying in touch, especially with those who left the industry through no fault of their own, has been high on the list.
“Looking forward, I see the need for a change in commission payments to travel advisors, many of whom have borne the brunt of so many cancellations, rebookings and changes. I genuinely believe that using a travel professional will be at the forefront of the minds of many consumers planning travel in 2021. I also sense a pent-up demand for travel, likely commencing in Spring 2021 and counsel the advisors to stay in close contact with their clientele and stay the course. Our industry has been decimated in many segments, but we can and will survive and come out more robust, even more resilient, and more capable of riding out any future storms.”
Niche Travel Group
“Lesson for 2020: tenacity! I encouraged our agents to stay the course and not give up when the trauma was overwhelming. Travel agents normally spend most of their day engaging with clients to curate a dream holiday. We are not great at monotonous paper work by nature and we had to pivot. I am incredibly proud of our agents and their resilience to put their head down and just do the work. In spite of the personal sorrow, the financial fears, the personal mental cost and anxiety, every day we woke up and worked on insurance claims and correspondence with our clients. Never give up Our 2021 Q4 will be huge! We expect the phone to start ringing in April and never stop.”
“The first thing we learned about 2020 is … it was not a good year to celebrate our 50th anniversary. Having survived 7 recessions (this is our 8th) we knew that ‘we should not waste a crisis.’ Consequently we have focussed on a post-pandemic Goway by investing in improving internal training and up-skilling our staff, building a new reservations system and developing new product and tweaking existing product. We have had to be nimble and adapt, to ensure that the post-COVID Goway will be way better than before.”
Regional Director, Canada
Jamaica Tourist Board
“2020 has been an unprecedented year of challenge and change for all of us in travel industry. At the JTB, we’ve had to be resilient and learn to adapt in the face of the unknown. I think the biggest lesson we’ve learned is the importance of community. When we could not come together in traditional ways — through sales calls, training sessions and FAM trips — we developed creative online programs to stay connected with our retail partners and consumers, and to bring Jamaica into people’s homes around the world. Jamaica has worked tirelessly to develop and implement its reopening protocols, and these measures are working to keep travellers and our country safe. Looking ahead to the future, we are focused on delivering a safe, seamless experience for those who are ready to travel and will continue to be a source of inspiration for those dreaming of future getaways.”
Chief Marketing Officer
Sunwing Travel Group
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has impacted many industries in an unprecedented way this year, and the travel industry is no exception. As Sunwing, we have used the past nine months as an opportunity to reset and consider how we, as a company, can better serve our customers’ needs, all in support of our mission to do more than any other travel provider and make the vacation experience friction-free, from start to ﬁnish. Our focus has been on driving a customer-centric and personalized experience, built on new platforms of innovation and modern technology. This focus will see us through 2021, and we look forward to bringing more Canadians to the tropics under our wing.”
Carrie Anne Gillespie
“This year has taught me I am stronger and more valued than I knew. As agents our strength and resilience were important before but now are essential to survive this industry. I like to think the anthem of travel agents in 2020 is the Chumbawamba lyric ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again.’ I am entering 2021 with the outlook that we can only go up from here! Keep looking forward to a future where it is safe travel again. And until then we dream and plan with our clients.”
Air Canada Vacations
“Air Canada Vacations has incredible partners and employees who have managed to maneuver through unprecedented times, communicating, collaborating, and pivoting from one challenge to another but always as partners and teammates. This past year has taught us to take nothing for granted and to appreciate everything we have.
“Heading into 2021, our mutual customers are craving travel as much as we are. Our Industry will recover but we can’t do it alone, we need to rebuild together. We’ve got incredible products across many product lines (Canada, Mexico Caribbean, Cruise Vacations, U.S., Europe and beyond) . Find the opportunity, sell with confidence. Health and safety have been our top priority. We CAN do this. Let’s do this together!”
The Travel Agent Next Door
“For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s probably time to re-focus my travel business something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but you never really have time to do it. I’ve come to realize over the last few months dealing with clients and suppliers over cancelled vacations and trips, is that we cannot be everything to everyone. So many files that have taken so much time and work are the ones that are the least profitable ones. Likewise on the supplier side of things, it’s been interesting to see which suppliers truly have your back and stand behind you when times are difficult. All suppliers have been great, however, there will probably be some that I will support more and some that I will support less going forward. I’m optimistic heading into 2021. I feel with the vaccine on the horizon this is going to be a boost that our industry needs to get us ramped up again.”
Bruce Poon Tip
“Adversity has immense power to create change so I hope people use 2020 to create change. As we look back on 2020 let’s celebrate the obstacles because they have given us the opportunity to better and get stronger, individually and as an industry. So much good can come of this year if we use it to do something special and great in the future.
“I’m highly optimistic about 2021 and getting people travelling again. We can, and it’s my hope that we will build back travel better as we head out into the world.”
The Travel Corporation, Canada
“We are grateful for the support of our valued partners and loyal Canadian agents during this extremely challenging year. Waiting for a crisis to occur makes it too late to develop a proper budget or to build up that rainy day fund. I now recognize and admire what the Chairman of The Travel Corporation (TTC) has long been preparing for and I am thankful for the disciplined leadership that he has demonstrated.
“From a TTC perspective, I do have a very positive outlook for 2021. Business will return in the second half of the year. Canadians will feel more confident in travelling again now that the vaccines are being administered in our country. Our Groups and Custom Groups will become an even bigger portion of our business. We have built up an even bigger department than we have ever had. We have even hired an executive to lead up the sales and promotions of our groups offering.”
“On a personal level, and not so much what I’ve learned, but what I’ve come to appreciate, are all those things that can’t be taken away from us: one’s family, friendships, values, aspirations to name a few. However, probably more to your point, the industry has been ravaged by this pandemic and there are some core lessons to be learned.
“Business relationships (and customer relationships) should be like personal relationships. True personal relationships prevail, whereas business relationships, or worse, transactional relationships falter or end abruptly. Beyond being decent and civil, having empathy and caring for professional relationships has a profound affect in good times and is an absolute necessity in bad times. We may not be able to shake hands right now but hopefully, in the future, we’ll soon be able to rub elbows and move past 2020 – more resilient and more robust than ever before and exactly because of what we’ve all just been through.”
BDM, Eastern Canada
Holland America Line & Seabourn
“Challenges like this always highlight where our strengths and weaknesses are and if it forces us to look at how we do business and change for the better, then I think this is what has got us through this so far. I have been blessed to still have a job with a company that is committed to refining, improving and strengthening our industry role when we return to sail. We will be a much improved and better equipped to adapt. We will work with less and provide more which is what most industries are being forced to do now. How we move forward in 2021 will be an exciting time and an amazing time for people to travel after such a long time of not doing so.
“My personal take aways: totally enlightened on some levels and completely exhausted on others! Watching how we as a human race rely on each other SHOULD be the example we follow, but I will be sad if we just pick up where we left off after all the sacrifice and loss. Time spent with my family has been invaluable and special and cannot wait to see my parents who live across the country! Patience and tolerance are my new mantra….I never had time for yoga classes and my closets are still full!”
“This crazy year has forced us to rethink our values: family, health, gratitude, respect our planet and compassion for others. Globally, I have the outmost respect for the tireless efforts of the often understaffed frontline workers and health professionals. They deserve more than applause, they deserve a salary raise and our continued recognition, also once the pandemic is over. They are the Robin Hoods who keep our society alive. In our industry, I’m very impressed how we have come together in this crisis to start rebuilding. I’m hopeful for the future of travel. The desire to travel and discover our beautiful planet has certainly not stopped during the pandemic.
“For 2021, the vaccine news and roll-out of rapid tests are encouraging and give us hope in Canada and Europe for next year. After more patience in Q1, tour operators and travel agents confirm Canadians want to travel again with a high demand in Europe and Switzerland for the coming summer and fall.”
Managing Director, North America
“The key lesson Intrepid Travel has learned is that it’s our duty as the world’s largest B Corp adventure travel company to encourage an industry-wide responsible restart, helping customers travel with regenerative impacts. We’re feeling optimistic about travel next year, as there’ll be more opportunity to not only travel, but to travel responsibly.
“Intrepid Travel has talked a lot about rebuilding responsibly and what that will look like for our business and the travel industry, as we reimagine our world in 2021. Now, as travel’s restart is on the horizon, these plans will turn into action; next year, Intrepid Travel is focusing on more regenerative travel options for travellers to support people and the planet.”