No doubt it helps that travel is finally resuming after so long. And it gives travel professionals confidence not only in their industry, but also in their businesses.
More than half (58%) of respondents say increased booking levels mean their travel agencies will soon be financially stable.
However, credit concerns are still very much a concern for 7% of agents who said they weren’t getting many bookings and weren’t sure their agency would. And just over a third (35%) of agents say customers book but still have credit issues.
Marsha Ramage, travel consultant and Australian Specialist Ambassador to Canada for Blowes & Stewart Travel in Peterborough, Ontario, says her agency is back on track when it comes to the financial situation.
“But with a possible upcoming recession, COVID, airport drama, etc., we remain cautious,” says Ramage. “We operate several 737 charters from Peterborough Airport and they are all selling well.”
The Travelweek agent survey, conducted in June 2022, came several months after the resurgence in travel and just before the start of the summer travel season.
RESERVATIONS ARE COMING
Asked about current booking levels, 39% said bookings for 2022 and 8% said phones were ringing nonstop.
And 48% of agents say they believe travel will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023. A significant percentage (38%) predict 2024 and 10% say 2025 and beyond. 3% determined say 2022.
Sandra McLeod of RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON says, “In my experience, all of my clients are booking now this year, next year and 2024. Bookings are definitely at 2019 levels. I have a clientele that spans Canada and the United States. They travel to North America and beyond: Europe, South America, Arctic, Antarctic, Australia, New Zealand. The only region that most still stay away from is Asia and of course Russia.
McLeod says that with the majority of countries now reopened without any testing required, his customers feel less stressed. “The only thing they don’t like is the ArriveCan app.”
Even long delays and congestion at airports have not been an obstacle for McLeod customers. “I care more than them,” she says.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
It’s definitely a more travel-friendly market. Some 86% of respondents say their customers are more receptive to travel marketing efforts than they were six months ago. And 94% say they promote international travel products for 2022.
Asked about the best ways to entice customers 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 at 3%, and innovative new products at 1%.
Flexibility is the name of the game at Collette. The tour has had huge success with their Travel Protection Plan.
“Three reasons why Collette’s Travel Protection Plan has seen an almost 100% increase in percentage purchase rates,” says Brett Walker, Collette’s general manager. “One: it’s the only dispensation that allows you to change your mind for any reason until the day before departure. Two: full cash refund, no questions asked. Three: same price for everyone regardless of age. It’s almost unbelievable, but believe it, it’s true! I repeat – one price for all and amazing value. Dare to compare!
Walker adds a bonus point: “Fourth: The policy has a pre-existing condition exclusion waiver if purchased within seven days of initial deposit. No other policy has a pre-existing 7 day waiver exclusion waiver. Not one. Only that of Collette. Our TPP is the real deal and cannot be beaten or copied. In these times, it’s no wonder sales are skyrocketing and agents have taken notice. Customers too.
Collette was one of the first tours amid the pandemic to announce initial commissions. When asked about upfront commission policies, 46% of agents surveyed said their sales strategies and bookings are not affected by when they receive their commission, and 40% said they always book the best product tailored to their client’s needs – but the upfront commission was a big point in favor of some tour operators. And 14% said upfront commissions helped keep their agency afloat during the pandemic. These agents say they have always researched and booked with tour operators who have taken this route.
Where are the customers going? When returning from travel, 50% of agents say Mexico and the Caribbean will be the first choice, followed by travel to Canada (15%), Europe (15%), cruises (10%). Trips to the United States and long-haul trips to Asia, Africa and beyond rounded out the destinations.
June 2022 was a watershed moment for U.S. inbound tourism, as the middle of the month saw the lifting of the pre-departure testing requirement for international travelers.
Dropping the requirement was a huge relief for anyone selling trips to the United States to Canadian customers. Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they had seen their customers’ interest in US destinations, a figure that no doubt skyrocketed as news of the removed testing requirement spread. widespread. When asked where US customers focus their attention, 38% said the South, 35% said Hawaii, and 19% said the West Coast.
When it comes to long-haul destinations, Moira Smith, Goway’s vice president for Africa and Asia, says Goway is recording strong numbers for several top spots. Smith’s department just had their quarterly exam and she shared some stats. “It’s great news that we’re all so busy again,” Smith says. “The Middle East is up sharply compared to the same period in 2019. The first are Dubai and Egypt. Southern Africa, after a very good month of November, was hit with cancellations due to Omicron. This month of June was the first month we saw pre-pandemic booking levels in both the South Pacific and Africa.
Agents are also seeing a lot of interest in cruise bookings. Cruising was the first sector of the travel industry hit by the pandemic, and defying odds, it has come back strong, with interest in cruise vacations stronger than ever.
Some 43% of agents say customers are asking to go on a cruise again, with 26% saying they are focusing more of their efforts on cruising for 2023 and beyond. Almost one in five (17%) say they see a very high level of interest in cruise bookings now and in the future, while 14% say they are still concerned about further negative impact on my cruise bookings because they’re heavily invested in selling cruise products.
MAKE CUSTOMERS TRAVEL AGAIN
Asked about the main barriers to getting customers to travel right now, agents cite reasons ranging from perception of travel restrictions to nervousness about airports, planes, etc., to lack of awareness of the relative openness of travel.
Sheila Gallant-Halloran of Lush Life Travel in Ottawa says she’s lucky to have many clients who are already traveling – or about to be. “I have the family of a client who finally traveled to Kenya today for a to-do list trip that was canceled twice before due to the pandemic; and several client couples and families have done the Rocky Mountaineer, taken cruises to Alaska, been to Hawaii and Costa Rica; visit Newfoundland, Vancouver, California and Florida; leave for Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, Monaco and Ireland; and take different European river cruises and ocean cruises on small ships. Several other river cruises and an Iceland cruise to come. And even some cruises around the world.
Gallant-Halloran adds, “I think most of my clients know they can travel now – at least I’ve been preaching that in my weekly newsletter throughout the pandemic, and I’ve certainly shared with clients every time there has been a relaxation of rules and regulations affecting the travel of Canadians.
For clients who are still hesitant or not yet ready to travel – “and yes, I still have whole swaths in this camp” – Gallant-Halloran says it’s a combination of factors, including fear and l hesitation after two years at home, insurance worries, ever-changing entry, exit and vaccination rules, and of course airport delays and congestion around the world.
“There are things I really can’t help myself – like the inordinate delays in getting passports and the queues they’ll encounter everywhere. But I’m very upfront with my clients about these complications, and while I can guide them and give them advice and recommendations, I have to let their stress levels guide them,” she says.
To view the 2022 Travelweek Agent Survey, click here.