TORONTO — You can’t keep a good industry down, and that’s especially true for travel.
Even after an unprecedented two years that brought so many travel businesses to the brink, an overwhelming majority – 90% – of travel advisors taking part in Travelweek’s Travel Agent Survey say they’re either optimistic or cautiously optimistic about the future of travel.
Respondents were also strongly convinced – to the tune of 94% – that the pandemic has shown consumers the value of working with a travel agent.
Close to 400 travel advisors across Canada took part in the survey.
No doubt it helps that travel is finally taking off again after so long. And that’s giving the travel trade faith not just in their industry, but in their businesses too.
More than half (58%) of respondents say ramped-up booking levels mean their travel agencies will soon be financially stable.
However solvency worries are still very top of mind for 7% of agents who said they’re not getting many bookings and they’re not sure their agency will make it. And just over a third (35%) of agents say clients are booking but they still have some solvency concerns.
Marsha Ramage, travel advisor and Aussie Specialist Ambassador for Canada for Blowes & Stewart Travel in Peterborough, ON, says her agency is back on track in regards to financial footing.
“But with a possible recession ahead, COVID, airport drama, etc., we are still being cautious,” says Ramage. “We operate several 737 charters from the Peterborough airport and they have all been selling well.”
Travelweek’s Agent Survey, conducted in June 2022, came several months into travel’s resurgence and just before the summer travel season started in earnest.
BOOKINGS ROLLING IN
Asked about current booking levels, 39% reported bookings for 2022, and 8% said phones are ringing off the hook.
And 48% of agents say they think travel will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023. A sizable percentage (38%) predict 2024, and 10% say 2025 and beyond. A determined 3% say 2022.
Sandra McLeod with RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON says: “My experience has been that all my clients are now booking this year, next year and 2024. Bookings are certainly at the 2019 level. I have a client base that spans Canada and the U.S. They are travelling in North America and beyond: Europe, South America, Arctic, Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand. The only area that most are still staying away from is Asia and obviously Russia.”
McLeod says that with the majority of countries now reopened with no testing required, her clients are feeling less stressed. “The only thing they don’t like is the ArriveCan app.”
Even the long delays and congestion at the airports haven’t been a hurdle for McLeod’s clients. “I get more concerned about it than they do,” she says.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
It’s certainly a more travel-positive marketplace out there. Some 86% of respondents say their clients are more receptive to travel marketing efforts than they were six months ago. And 94% say they’re promoting international travel product for 2022.
Asked about the best ways to entice clients to travel again, 53% say flexible rebooking and cancellation policies. Easy entry and testing requirements come in at 24%, low prices and sales at 19%, strong health and safety protocols, 3%, and new innovative products, 1%.
Flexibility is the name of the game at Collette. The tour op has had huge success with its Travel Protection Plan.
“Three reasons why Collette’s Travel Protection Plan has seen almost a 100% increase in percentage buy rates,” says Collette GM Brett Walker. “One: it’s the only waiver that offers change of mind for any reason up to the day before departure. Two: full cash refund, no questions asked. Three: same price for everyone regardless of age. This is almost unbelievable but believe it – it’s true! I repeat – one price for all and incredible value. Dare to compare!”
Walker adds a bonus point: “Four: the policy has a pre-existing condition exclusion waiver if purchased within seven days of the initial deposit. No other policy has a 7 day pre-existing waiver exclusion waiver. Not one. Only Collette’s. Our TPP is the real deal and can’t be beat or copied. In these times it’s no wonder sales are through the roof and agents have taken notice. Clients too.”
Collette was one of the first tour ops amid the pandemic to announce upfront commissions. When asked about upfront commission policies, 46% of agents surveyed said their sales strategies and bookings aren’t impacted by when they receive their commission, and 40% said they always book the product best suited to their client’s needs – but upfront commission was a big point in favour of some tour operators. And 14% said upfront commissions helped keep their agency afloat during the pandemic. These agents say they always sought out and booked with tour operators who went this route.
Where are clients going? As travel returns, 50% of agents say Mexico and the Caribbean will be the top choice, followed by travel within Canada (15%) Europe (15%), cruising (10%). Travel to the U.S., and long-haul travel to Asia, Africa and beyond rounded out the destinations.
June 2022 was a turning point for inbound tourism to the U.S., as mid-month saw the lifting of the pre-departure testing requirement for international travellers.
The dropped requirement was a huge relief for anyone selling U.S. travel to Canadian clients. Close to half (45%) of respondents said they’ve seen interest from their clients in U.S. destinations, a figure that no doubt soared as word spread about the dropped testing requirement. Asked where in the U.S. clients are focusing their attention, 38% said the South, 35% said Hawaii and 19% said the West Coast.
As for long-haul destinations, Moira Smith, Goway’s VP Africa and Asia, says Goway is seeing strong numbers for several top spots. Smith’s department just had its quarterly review and she shared some stats. “It’s great news that we are all so busy again,” says Smith. “The Middle East is significantly up over the same period in 2019. Front runners being Dubai and Egypt. Southern Africa, after a very good November, was hit with cancellations because of Omicron. This June was the first month that we’ve seen pre-pandemic booking levels to both the South Pacific and Africa.”
Agents are also seeing lots of interest in cruise bookings. Cruising was the first sector in the travel industry impacted by the pandemic, and defying all odds, it has come roaring back, with interest in cruise vacations stronger than ever.
Some 43% of agents say clients are asking about cruising again, with 26% saying they’re focusing their efforts more on cruising for 2023 and beyond. Close to one in five (17%) say they’re seeing a very high level of interest in cruise bookings for now and the future, while 14% say they’re still concerned about further negative impact on my cruise bookings, as they’re heavily invested in selling cruise product.
GETTING CLIENTS TRAVELLING AGAIN
Asked about the biggest impediments to getting clients travelling right now, agents cite reasons ranging from perceptions about travel restrictions, to nervousness about airports, airplanes and the like, to lack of awareness about how relatively open travel has become.
Sheila Gallant-Halloran with Lush Life Travel in Ottawa says she’s fortunate to have many clients already travelling – or about to. “I have a client’s family finally headed to Kenya today for a bucket list trip that was cancelled twice before because of the pandemic; and have had multiple client couples and families do the Rocky Mountaineer, take Alaska cruises, go to Hawaii and Costa Rica; visit Newfoundland, Vancouver, California, and Florida; head off to Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, Monaco, and Ireland; and take different European river cruises and small ship ocean cruises. Several more river cruises and an Iceland cruise coming up. And even some world cruises.”
Gallant-Halloran adds: “I think most of my clients are aware they can travel now – at least I’ve been preaching that in my weekly newsletter throughout the pandemic, and have certainly shared with clients every time there’s been a lessening of rules and regulations impacting Canadians’ travelling.
For those clients still hesitating, or not yet ready to travel – “and yes, I have whole swaths still in this camp” – Gallant-Halloran says it’s a combination of factors, including fear, and hesitancy after two years at home, insurance worries, continually changing entry, exit, and vaccination rules, and of course airport delays and congestion worldwide.
“There are things I can’t really help with though – like the inordinate delays to get passports, and the lineups they will encounter everywhere. But I am very upfront with my clients about these complications, and while I can guide them and give advice and recommendations, I have to let their stress level guide them,” she says.
To check out Travelweek’s 2022 Agent Survey, click here.