TORONTO — If there’s one thing that pandemic has made perfectly clear, it’s that COVID-19 has been a complete leveller for travel companies. High end, low end and everything inbetween: no travel company has escaped the impact of COVID-19 and its travel restrictions.
Virtuoso’s sales graph for March – July 2020 bears that out. Luxury travel can often ride out crises that hit other parts of the industry. But with COVID-19, Virtuoso has been impacted just like everyone else. Every bar on the graph is below zero, with March 2020 down about 78%, April 2020 down more than 100%, May 2020 just shy of 100%, and June and July 2020 down by close to 90%.
Sharing the stats as part of yesterday’s press conference during the virtual Virtuoso Travel Week 2020, panel moderator Misty Belles, Global PR for Virtuoso, said “travel is going to look a lot different coming out of this, than it did going into this.”
Virtuoso’s Chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch, who was also part of yesterday’s panel, noted that 2019 was all about over tourism. Now in 2020, the travel industry is facing under-tourism. “While the rest of the world is dealing with a recession, our industry is literally dealing with a depression,” said Upchurch.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Coming off another record-breaking year in 2019, the global travel industry was set to mark a new milestone in the years ahead: five generations all wanting to travel at the same time. “The last of the Baby Boomers will turn 60 in 2024. After that, 80% of Baby Boomers were expected to live another generation in relative good health. All for the first time in history.”
Baby Boomers are wonderful travellers, and a key market for luxury specialist Virtuoso.
With COVID-19, says Upchurch, “there was a screeching halt of all the world’s economies”, and in the first weeks, 100% of the world’s travel destinations had travel restrictions in place.
While the travel industry has never faced a bigger challenge, there has also never been a greater opportunity for growth post-pandemic, he added. Upchurch famously told his team to ‘automate the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional’. “I coined that phrase about 20 years ago, and it’s true when things are going well, and when they’re not. In fact, the greatest loyalty was never created when things went perfectly,” he said.
The session, one of the kick-off events for the four-day Virtuoso Travel Week 2020 running Aug. 10 – 13, came on the heels of yesterday’s opening ceremony with more insights and stats from David Kolner, Virtuoso’s Senior VP, Strategy, as well as an interview Upchurch conducted with Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
Here are some of the stats gathered by Virtuoso in its flash poll in July 2020, surveying clients about their travel plans for 2020 and beyond.
Virtuoso also surveyed its members, including Canadian agents, about 2020 bookings and how they’re faring during these challenging times. The agent survey took place in August 2020.
Q. If travel restrictions lift, what’s the farthest you’re willing to travel?
International flight – 59%
Nonstop domestic flight – 23%
Multi-segment domestic flight – 7%
One-day drive or shorter – 7%
More than a day’s drive – 4%
Q. What kind of trip do you want to take?
Island / beach destination – 47%
U.S. city destination – 27.8%
U.S. beach destination – 20.8%
Adventure destination (eg. Africa, Australia, Costa Rica, etc) – 20.8%
Ocean cruise – 17.1%
Wellness resort or destination – 16.2%
Exotic beach destination (eg. Fiji, Maldives, Tahiti) – 12%
River cruise – 9.7%
Expedition cruise – 4.6%
Q. Would you take a cruise right now?
Yes – 37%
I’m not ready – 63%
For cruise bookings Virtuoso notes that its 2021 bookings are outpacing 2018. River cruise bookings for the retailer are up 14% for 2021, while ocean cruise bookings for 2021 are down by single digits. “Traditional cruise clients will continue sailing,” says the company.
Q. Which statement accurately describes the new bookings you’re getting right now?
None or very few at this time – 47%
The majority of my new bookings are for travel in 2020 – 10%
The majority of my new bookings are for travel in 2021 – 35%
The majority of my new bookings are for travel in 2022 (or beyond) – 2%
A relatively even mix of new bookings for travel in 2020 and in future years – 8%
Q. When do you think leisure travel will begin to grow?
It’s already started – 5%
In the next one to two months – 2%
In the next three to six months – 23%
In the next six months or more – 55%
More than a year from now – 14%
Q. Which statements best describe your attitude about the travel industry right now?
After a vaccine is readily available, we will return to normal relatively quickly – 39%
I’m very concerned about our future – recovery will be slow – 43%
I’m confident out our future – travel will rebound fairly quickly – 16%
I’m thankful for Virtuoso members and partners’ ability to pull together – 39%
The worst is behind us – 3%
This crisis will forever change how consumers travel – 39%
This is an opportunity to reimagine our industry – 53%
We need to prepare for more turbulence – 21%
Other – 9%