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Many Americans are considering traveling again.
And who can blame them? After all, it’s been over a year since coronavirus infection rates were reduced, lockdown restrictions recurring and repetitive, and sheer quarantine fatigue.
As Covid-19 vaccination efforts multiply across the country, tourism suppliers are monitoring growing interest, and even business, for the holidays starting this spring. However, many aspects of the travel experience have changed and can become permanent – for better or for worse.
“We’re seeing more and more optimistic people about travel, whether it’s starting this spring or this summer,” said Jeff Hurst, president of online vacation home rental site Vrbo in Austin, TX, and co-marketing manager of parent company Expedia Group.
“What is encouraging is that people are basically putting their money where they want and book this trip,” he said.
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A recent Vrbo survey of more than 8,000 people found that 65% of Americans plan to travel more than they did before Covid in 2021.
A March survey of 535 adults by The Vacationer website, meanwhile, found that once the pandemic is “officially” over, a quarter of people plan to travel more, while just over 58 % will revert to pre-Covid travel habits. The same study found that 67.72% of respondents plan to travel this summer.
Expedia Group’s Travel Trends 2021 report, produced in December, found that 46% of people said they would be more likely to travel when a Covid vaccine became widely available. By Wednesday, nine states will offer all their residents vaccinations, and President Joe Biden wants to make every American adult eligible for vaccination by May 1.
Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold – two premium guided vacation brands owned by The Travel Corporation, based in Cypress, Calif. – said that “as the vaccine rollout continues to evolve, we have seen a dramatic increase in our bookings. “
Reservations are now coming in for T3 and T4 this year. “But it’s 2022 that’s going to be a banner year, I think, for everyone,” Grutzner said.
Air travel is on the rise, CNBC reported, and short and long-term hotel bookings are starting to pick up, according to Nicholas Ward, president and co-founder of Koddi, a travel reservation technology company based in Fort Worth, in the United States. Texas.
Ward said he sees increased vaccination rates, greater demand for travel and good data on traveler sentiment as indicating “the possibility of a nice summer season, even if we don’t fully recover in 2021 “.
While demand for traditional hotel accommodation remains down by around 13% from last year and 20% from 2019, “this is the least that it has fallen in some time”, did he declare. “We are seeing that things are generally going in the right direction from a travel demand perspective and continue to improve week after week.”
However, industry leaders do not see a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. There is a new standard of travel, they say, for better or for worse.
“I don’t think there will be a year to come that seems normal in the context of the past,” said Hurst of Vrbo. “I don’t really plan that way, and I’m not sure consumers either.”
James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel, based in Delray Beach, Florida, a network of some 60,000 home travel counselors, agrees.
“We will never go back to what the industry looked like before the pandemic, and we should never go back,” he said. “We have grown over the past year, we have learned things – just like consumers.
Ferrara said some changes, such as continuous masking or cruise ships sailing at half capacity, will only be temporary, while others – like improved sanitation protocols and cancellation and cancellation policies. Relaxed reservation change from airlines and other travel providers – are here to stay. “It sounds like a long term change to me, and I think it’s a great deal for everyone.”
The Koddi district agreed and also predicted that the safe and “frictionless” check-in protocols that hotels, resorts and other accommodation instituted during the pandemic represented a radical change, with providers focusing on upgrading. level of technologies such as smartphone applications.
“We are seeing that contactless check-ins, mobile check-ins are really increasing significantly,” he said. “It’s a clear victory for consumers and it’s really possible for hotels too.
“They are looking to operate – and in many cases need to operate – much more efficiently,” Ward said, noting that it will take some time for staffing levels to rebound, so technology shortcuts are crucial.
Interest in travel advice is on the rise
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Speaking of staff, Ferrara said the bright side of the pandemic for travel counselors – or travel agents, as they were once again called – was that it had proven their value to consumers. A profession that has suffered repeated blows, from commission cuts to the rise of online booking engines, since the turn of the century has finally been able to prove it had the right things when Covid hit and the holidays rolled around been cleaned en masse.
“Here we are a year later, and we see that some customers are still struggling to get their refunds,” Ferrara said. “A professional travel counselor would do all of this work for you and often at no cost.”
When he founded InteleTravel in the early 1990s, the credibility of travel counselors “fell somewhere around used car salesmen,” Ferrara said. But “consumers have learned the value of a professional travel counselor, especially when things don’t go their way.”
“In my career, which dates back over 30 years now, I have never seen the interest and confidence of travel agents as high as it is today,” he added, noting that ‘he had seen polls showing that two-thirds of potential travelers were considering using a travel counselor for future trips.
Where are they going?
Look for a continued interest in domestic travel, beach vacations, vacation home rentals, and “bleisure” trips that combine business and vacation travel – all trends that took hold or took off during the pandemic. Another is the road trip.
Local car travel is here to stay, according to Hurst de Vrbo. “The thirst to travel to explore what is nearby, you know, has, especially for the younger generations, potentially lasting benefits,” he said. “You’re not going to be that much in the air.
“It’s a different kind of economically sustainable travel, and you can invest more in local communities and in things that you might feel a different kind of connectedness with.”
For his part, Grutzner at Insight Vacations agreed that “traveling with purpose” is at stake. “We are getting more questions now about what our company is doing to give back.” (The 40 brands of The Travel Corporation collectively founded the TreadRight Foundation, which supports 50 projects around the world dedicated to sustainable tourism and community and environmental support.)
Grutzner also expects a resurgence of interest in escorted vacations or group tours, although travelers now prefer smaller contingents.
“We are careful and very selective when it comes to the hotels we stay in, the restaurants we eat and the places we go, so as not to put our customers at risk,” he said, adding that the average Insight visit includes less than 24 participants and Luxury Gold, less than 20. “I believe it will be more and more something that people are looking for.”
One thing they will also be looking for – or need to have – is travel insurance, especially for medical care outside of the U.S. borders. Grutzner said 85% of customers now buy insurance, up from 40% to 45% before Covid.
“I can tell you that everyone should add travel insurance to every transaction,” InteleTravel’s Ferrara said, noting that travel providers relaxing change penalties doesn’t mean vacationers don’t have to. worry. “You have to worry about being flown to a place where you trust the medical services,” he said. “And these bills – I’ve seen people make claims for a quarter of a million dollars.”
While today’s travelers will be widely vaccinated and insured, the travel industry itself will be healthier than it was before the pandemic, Hurst said.
“We’ll have a new muscle in terms of… how… we’re going to hopefully handle a much smaller version of that in the future,” he said. “I think we are all better prepared … so I am optimistic that such future events will be both smaller and less disruptive.”