After holding virtual meetings with its top accounts and travel advisors, Michelle Palma, Vice President, Field Sales – North America, Uniworld, said they’ve gleaned incredible insights into the current market conditions.
“First and foremost is that consumers still want to travel. Many clients that have travel plans for late summer and fall 2020 are optimistic and are waiting to see what happens in the coming weeks as parts of Canada and the world start to open back up,” she told Travel Courier. “That being said, there are also consumers who have written off their plans for 2020 and have chosen to rebook to 2021 when they feel the international borders and skies will be fully reopened.”
A big trend will be the push towards travelling domestically, she said.
“I predict taglines like ‘Explore your own backyard’ will become trendy,” Palma said. “Many of the partners we spoke with have already done initial surveys of their clients’ future travel intentions and the consensus is that the small, intimate environment of a river cruise ship is still very much in demand for future travel plans and we are certainly seeing that reflected in our 2021 sales which are up significantly year over year.”
With health and safety standards being increasingly important to travellers, the boutique river cruise collection recently announced enhanced protocols onboard its ships.
“The health and well being of our guests and crew are paramount and we want them to know that we have them covered every step of the way. These new measures will be incorporated into everything we do, including servicing guest suites, onboard dining, excursions, transfer vehicles and crew etiquette,” she stressed, noting that the new procedures are highlighted on its website and was even incorporated into a new module in its online training program. “It’s crucial that our agency partners know exactly what measures have been taken onboard the ships so they can pass the information along to their clients which will provide them with peace of mind and assurance they need to book with confidence.”
No matter what travel will look like on the other side, she strongly believes that agents will play a big role in the future of the industry.
“At the end of the day, we are all in this together and while consolidations are inevitable, our industry will come out of this stronger and more aligned across all segments,” she said. “The one thing I do know for sure is that now more than ever consumers will recognize and appreciate the knowledge, expertise and value that working with a travel advisor provides which will ensure our industry continues to flourish in 2021 and beyond.”
As the travel industry evolves into its new normal post COVID-19, Wolf Paunic, President of Trafalgar said new standards of health and well being will be implemented across all operations and will remain a top priority.
“Canadian clients will be ready to make meaningful connections with people, places and the local cultures of the destinations they explore,” he told Travel Courier. “When Canadians will be travelling again, domestic travel is of top interest. Clients are looking to explore unique and local experiences in their own backyard across our vast country.”
Paunic noted that Trafalgar and Costsaver will fully comply with World Health Organization and local government guidelines set for each destination.
“We have always held the health and well being of clients as paramount and will continue to do so,” he said, adding that it could result in some changes in how they operate. “For instance, group sizes may decrease to adapt to social distancing rules and regulations implemented per destination.”
During the road to recovery, he said the company will be there to support travel agents.
“Clients will be researching their next vacation and will make more conscious choices in where they truly want to travel,” he said. “Canadian travel agents now have the opportunity to keep building their relationships and demonstrate their expertise and get their clients inspired.”
The TREADRIGHT FOUNDATION
In a post COVID-19 travel world, Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer for The TreadRight Foundation, believes that the industry will be met with travellers who are more discerning.
“Like an awful lot of things in our lives, travel had become something many of us had taken for granted,” Guihan told Travel Courier. “Multiple trips a year was simple for many. I think the new, post COVID-19 traveller will be more considerate about where they travel, with whom, for how long and, I hope, what they do while there, and that this will result in a more aware, conscious traveller.”
As travellers become more aware of their choices, this awareness will result in higher expectations for how tour operators operate.
“Higher expectations, to me, means a greater responsibility to consider the way in which we operate, and the imperative to do so with the same consciousness that I hope travellers themselves will bring,” she said. “Two sides of the same coin.”
INSIGHT VACATIONS & LUXURY GOLD
As the industry at large begins to adjust to a new normal post COVID-19, Brad Ford, President of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, said the health and safety of travellers will remain a key priority.
“Our guests’ well being is of the utmost importance,” he told Travel Courier. “Countries around the world will continue working together as a positive force for good to bring travel back and adapt to our new normal in the post COVID-19 era.”
Based on the World Health Organization’s recommendations, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold will be implementing enhanced hygiene protocols and physical distancing procedures as they prepare to welcome guests back.
“We will continue to adapt and are committed to follow the guidelines by government authorities,” he said. “We are working closely with our valued travel advisors and partners and sharing feedback about clients new travel expectations and how they are looking forward to travelling again.”
Ford sees Canadian travellers adapting to domestic travel first.
“There is a heightened interest to explore our own beautiful country from coast to coast and to later travel internationally,” he said. “We are all part of an incredible travel industry that is remarkably resilient. We have gotten through time and time again when faced with any challenges we have encountered. We will get through this recovery period together, stronger and better.”
Sheralyn Berry, President of Contiki Holidays, said the travel industry will need to adapt to meet the evolving needs of the customers after COVID-19.
“The travel industry will see shifts in buying patterns and decisions made while travelling like we have never seen before,” she told Travel Courier. “Clients’ comfort levels may also be altered and travellers will be more conscious when planning their next trip. These are all things that professionals in our travel industry will have to be mindful of.”
With the well being of guests being the top priority, she said Contiki will be implementing additional health and safety protocols.
“Tour operators will also have the opportunity to pivot how they operate. These opportunities include, but are not limited to, product offerings, refreshed itineraries and CSR initiatives,” Berry noted. “When the time is right, Contiki and our loyal agents will continue to bring clients together to discover the world. In the meantime, we are continuing to stay engaged and connected with our Gen-Z and millennial travellers who are providing their feedback in where they want to explore next and their specific interests so we will continue to create more unique and amazing experiences.”
With a pent up demand for travel, she’s optimistic about what the future holds.
“Everyone that you talk to is looking forward to getting back to travelling after COVID-19, however that may look and whatever form that may be,” she said. “This too shall pass and our industry will be stronger due to this experience.”