Open Jaw asked travel advisors the all-important question about whether vaccinations are finally helping to boost bookings.
They told us that Canadians still can’t wait to travel again, but that the sluggish vaccine rollouts in this country, coupled with ongoing government travel restrictions, continue to prevent recovery in the industry. As a result, most said their bookings for 2021 are largely stagnant. But that starts to change in 2022 and beyond, with lots of anecdotal evidence that clients can’t wait to travel.
“None of my clients have booked a vacation for 2021. They are hesitant to even think of booking anything for fear of new restrictions being implemented,” Barb Tudino, an advisor with Cruise Holidays Luxury Travel Boutique, told Open Jaw.
“Canada is far behind other countries with the vaccination schedule. Having proof of a vaccine before travel is rising in popularity, which leaves us Canadians excluded as we have no known timeline of when we will be vaccinated. With entry guidelines still changing, I and my clients are leery to book anything in the fall.”
To add insult to injury, “huge discounts are being offered but Canadians, who are trying to follow the government’s ‘avoid all non-essential travel’ guidelines, and cannot take advantage,” Tudino said.
All her new business is for at least 2022, she says, with river cruises being popular.
Sister duo Nancy and Lisa Zupancic with Vision Travel say “people are seeing a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’” but echo Tudino’s concerns about vaccines, saying they “are not coming as fast as they need to in order for us to advise actually booking travel in the near future.”
The Zupancics have been booking clients throughout the pandemic, but with some trips cancelled and rebooked two or three times already, they are now being more conservative. They are booking well into 2022 and even 2023, adding that most of the 2023 bookings are new, as opposed to redeemed travel credits.
Cruises, mostly river, luxury small ship and expedition, have proven to be most popular among clients, as well as African safaris.
Paula Simoes, travel consultant at Acadia Travel, says even vaccinated seniors are skeptical to book travel “for fear of a lockdown and being stranded overseas.”
Demand for cruises, sun destinations and guided tours for this year is “almost non-existent,” she said, adding that she has “hundreds of people” waiting to rebook with credit vouchers.
Of the bookings made at Acadia Travel, Simoes says they are mainly for travellers who must return to their home country for emergency reasons.
Simoes sees travel demand taking a turn towards more eco-friendly, outdoor-based and off-the-beaten-path experiences, as well as smaller cruises and private customized touring.
Vision Travel’s Ariane Henry says there has been “quite an increase in enquiries and bookings for future travel” since FEB. Domestic trips are more popular for this year, but Henry says many of her clients are re-booking international trips for 2022 and 2023, mainly cruises, river cruises and tours.
The majority of her clients opted for refunds from suppliers and are now rebooking, she says, some with the same suppliers, while others have changed their plans altogether.
“2022 and 2023 are going to be really busy years for travel. I already have a waitlist for Christmas 2022/New Years 2023 all-inclusive vacations for when they become available. 80 per cent of the cruises I have booked are for after July 2022,” Henry told Open Jaw.
As for destinations, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean and Baltic have been very popular, Henry says, and she has also received enquiries for more smaller ocean cruises, river cruises and “bucket list trips” in Africa, the Galapagos and South Pacific.
“I think people have held off on certain trips and with the pandemic realized it’s time to start experiencing trips they might have ‘put off’ in the past,” she says.
Standing By For Liftoff…
It may be tough to sell travel for 2021 so far, but pent-up demand and the prospects of a travel rebound are exciting for the travel advisors Open Jaw spoke with. Henry went so far as to optimistically proclaim: “I’m very positive that this year is the start of the rebound for our industry.”
“I do see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I personally hope that by this fall, we will see a return to travel and an easement of restrictions for those returning home into Canada. I believe that as the cruise lines, tour operators and airlines announce their ‘return to travel’ dates, we will see more and more people booking.”
The Zupancics are taking a more cautious approach, saying, “We are all getting more excited, but we feel as soon as one country seems to open up another one is going into lock-down. So we would like to see what happens in the next month and we hope this will give a much better understanding of where travel stands for Canadians.”
Tudino also foresees “a huge rise in demand,” but only once the government lifts travel restrictions and more Canadians are vaccinated.
Simoes echoes that sentiment, and adds that it’ll take longer for Canadians to regain the confidence, trust and security to travel again.
“Until we all get immunized and travel restrictions are eased, or specifically the hotel quarantine is banned, we will continue to see reduced travel capacity. Subsequently the new variants are causing a greater deal of concern and uncertainty.”
On the bright side, Simoes says travel will be a “phenomenon” once it does get going. “Everyone is standing by, anxiously awaiting to travel like never before!”