Travel industry rebounds, but recovery is slow
Other than those hoping for last-minute sales – and there are a few on the websites of Manitoba’s major tour operators – bookings for the winter season are mostly done.
While some destinations have done reasonably well, especially with winter snowbirds pledging to return to their annual haunts, it’s been a pretty dismal season for travel agents across the country.
A number of destinations have been dropped by tour operators – and flight times have been shortened for others.
Despite this, a recent survey published by FinanceBuzz of US travelers indicates that the negative impact on people’s travel intentions was not as great during the spread of the Omicron variant as it was during the peak of the Delta version.
During Delta’s peak, 43% of trips already booked were canceled – whereas during this current Omicron wave, only 31% did so. Seventy percent still chose to continue with their original travel plans.
Masking, refundable options are important
Despite some opposition to masking rules, 63% of respondents still see masking rules as a determining factor in choosing their destination – down just six points from the Delta wave. Similarly, travelers want masking rules to be retained for in-flight travel. Forty-seven percent say they would be less likely to fly if airlines stopped requiring masks on flights – an actual increase of eight percent since August.
The travel industry seems to have perceived a major consumer concern – as more and more tour operators and hotel organizations have already introduced fully refundable options. This was clear in the research, as respondents said they waited longer to book travel so they wouldn’t be stuck with non-refundable deposits – or worse, full payment.
Although there is a desire in the United States to return to international travel, as in Canada, the domestic market seems poised to gain what overseas travel might lose. Travelers’ biggest worries are the fear of being quarantined in a foreign country or losing too much of their travel investment by being ill on Omicron for a significant portion of their vacation. The polls for this report were conducted in mid-January.
Sailing in the face of a hurricane of headwinds
Although few in the travel industry are doing well these days, cruise lines just can’t seem to find calm waters.
While companies report that the percentages of Omicron cases on recent cruises have been lower than the national average, the fact that people have had to be confined to their cabins is demotivating bookings.
Cruise lines have lost billions of dollars during this industry crisis. Crystal Cruises, one of the highest rated maritime experiences in better times, is going bankrupt and looking for ports to offload passengers from US ports, to save their ships from being confiscated to satisfy fuel and other debts.
Cruise lines have rigorous cleaning protocols in place – perhaps the best in the entire travel industry – but reservations have yet to fill ships – even though most companies have put in place policies that require crew and passengers to be fully immunized. Now some have defined the full vaccine as also including a booster shot.
While these are dark days for the industry – to hear from avid cruisers – it’s clear that the desire for a safe return to cruising has not gone away, as those who loved what this style of navigation represents for them, do not stop expressing it.
A few tips for the coming year
FinanceBuzz travel and credit card writer Ben Walker offers some great tips for greater travel security in the months ahead.
In addition to looking for refundable options, book with credit cards that include pandemic travel insurance in their offers. Be flexible in planning your destination and include backup options in your thinking so you can adapt without too much hassle.
Consider using your reward point to book as many trips as possible. Some have good undo options and if worse comes to worse, losing points may be better than losing money.
Make sure you fully understand your travel insurance policy in the area of Covid cover – and I suggest until you feel an industry rebound, delay your final booking for as long as you can from the point of view of security – as well as for the possibility of finding very good price reductions.
A writer and podcaster, Ron’s travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.
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