TORONTO — As crazy and chaotic as it was to shut down non-essential travel in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, opening the industry back up could be just as challenging, to say the least. Agents are ready, but the federal government is still proceeding with the utmost caution, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments this morning are any indication.
As provinces across Canada begin to introduce a ‘new normal’, with some businesses opening and life starting to get back on track, the travel industry is watching for any signs that the federal government is ready to ease restrictions against non-essential travel. Last week’s announcement from ACV that Air Canada’s June schedule includes limited service to the Caribbean and Europe was the first sign of hope for the industry in two months.
The Canada-U.S. border is scheduled to reopen on May 21. The reopening has already been deferred once, in mid-April. Asked about the border this morning in his daily address, Trudeau said the federal government would need to see a further flattening of the curve, and a decrease in cases, before considering a reopening. And not just for transborder travel, from the sounds of things. “We’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, and that includes the U.S. border, before it’s time,” he said in a Q&A session.
When travel finally does reopen, where will clients head first, and who will book first – Millennials, Boomers or Gen X? Agents shared their thoughts on all these questions and more in Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey. The survey was sent out in late April with responses from close to 400 agents across Canada.
Just over half of respondents, about 55%, said they think bookings will pick up in fall/winter 2020. Another 38% say bookings will gather momentum in 2021. Just 5% say bookings will pick up this summer, and 2% say it won’t happen until 2022.
See below the infographic for more results from the survey…
A strong majority of agents, 95%, agree with the travel restrictions that were put in place in Canada and around the world.
THE VALUE OF TRAVEL AGENTS
No matter when travel restarts, the pandemic has been instrumental in showing consumers the advantages of working with a travel agent, and 93% of survey respondents agree. Travel agents across Canada got hundreds of thousands of travellers home as borders closed in mid-March. The intervening weeks have been almost as busy, as constantly changing policy updates from airlines, tour operators and cruise lines made for scores of cancellations and rebookings.
While agents have never been so busy, they have also never been so appreciated. Chains, consortiums and host agencies are revelling in the positive feedback.
“We have a received lots of great comments from our clients over these last few months,” says Lynda Sinclair, Senior Vice President, Leisure Travel for Vision Travel Solutions. Testimonials coming into Vision HQ from thankful clients include the kind of plaudits every agent loves to hear. One client writes: “I will be recommending your services and professionalism to all my colleagues.” Another says: “Even with this whole situation happening, you have been an absolute superstar with a massive amount of patience. Just a small thank you and a reminder that you are awesome.”
When agent testimonials like this are posted on Facebook, like this one was, the traction is even higher.
WHERE AND WHO
Asked what destinations would recover first, once bookings do come back, agents responding to the survey said domestic travel within Canada would be the first to come back, followed by the Caribbean & Mexico, then the U.S. Beyond North America, it will be Europe, then cruising, then Asia, then Africa and beyond.
Agents book incredibly high volumes of cruise vacations, and the hit to that side of the industry has been particularly hard. While the consumer media has been forecasting the death of the cruise industry, agents know better. Cruise clients are a dedicated bunch and while it may take longer for cruise to recover than other segments of the industry, make no mistake, cruising will be back. Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers all love cruising and these demographics will return to travel in that order, say agents.
Not surprisingly, more than eight out of 10 agents (83%) also think travellers will be more inclined to purchase travel insurance when travel resumes.
Things get tricky now that COVID-19 is a known event when it comes to insurance coverage. But travel insurance, and cancellation insurance, will be on the minds of even more travellers than usual when travel gets going again.
“Historically there is a greater propensity for Canadians to secure travel insurance after the occurrence of a world event as bookings begin to rebound,” says Manulife’s Manager, Education, Advocacy & Trade, Janet Pacini Thibodeau
And agents will be pivotal in those discussions with travellers, she adds. “They will be seeking the advice of travel professionals for the best options available to them.”