While we still await a definitive roadmap for the way forward for international travel, as the one year anniversary of COVID-19 closing international borders approaches, it’s clear demand is there and it’s time to get ready despite the lack of an “official” timeline.
But what are we doing as an industry to prepare?
With the first vaccinations aiming to be delivered to all Canadians by the beginning of July, I predict we have three months until we see bookings surge. According to a recent survey* conducted by G Adventures, more than half (51%) of Canadian travellers said lockdowns have made them want to travel more than before, yet 78% are yet to book their next international holiday.
This presents a huge opportunity for agents and operators to get ahead of the inevitable rush on bookings. And these might just come faster than we think, especially with last week’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination which only necessitates one shot.
As a travel community, these are the messages we need to promote, we need to be comfortable promoting travel during the pandemic, we need to acknowledge that we understand people might want to wait to be vaccinated, but that shouldn’t stop them from dreaming or better still booking now, for travel later.
We all know the vaccine is our fastest route out of this pandemic with many people waiting to be vaccinated before they think about setting foot on a plane, yet 40% of consumers who are yet to book their next trip abroad say they will still do so before they receive their vaccination, so we need to ask ourselves – why haven’t they?
These are the customers we need to be engaging with now. While it will take some time to scale back up to pre-COVID capacity levels, lead times will quickly shrink to the shortest we have seen in the history of the Canadian travel industry, as pent-up demand from travel fanatics is realized.
So, when agents are selling travel there needs to be a real push for booking now, for travel later.
If people wait too long to book, there is the likelihood of high demand and low supply meaning people won’t necessarily get their first choice of travel dates.
According to our most recent data, 30% of Canadians will book a holiday less than one month in advance once borders are open and/or they are vaccinated, increasing to 43% for holiday bookings less than three months in advance. This represents a huge shift from our traditional six month booking window and the risk of availability being limited for customers who do want to get away is very real.
So, agents who are promoting travel now – the agents that are inspiring their database now – will do very well when the surge in bookings comes, and it's going to come quicker than most people think.
There are still some obvious question marks in terms of vaccination passports, testing requirements, and the lifting of quarantine restrictions.
It’s my belief we need a combination of a vaccine passport for those who have been given the all-clear to travel, and tests for those who haven’t. These are likely to be younger travellers who are desperate to get away the minute borders open, but still need to respect the regulations of the countries they are travelling to, and still be safe when it comes to returning home.
But in addition to those younger travellers that are eager to get away, it's the older age groups that will be vaccinated first and likely to be the first people lucky enough to be travelling internationally.
I also want to add that it’s been encouraging to also see an uplift in agency activity over the past couple of months – so thank you to everyone who has kept the faith, and continues to believe in travel as a force for good and important driver of wealth distribution to some of the most in-need countries in the world.
We need to continue to dust ourselves off and return reinvigorated with the resilience our industry is known for as we get back to doing what we love – selling life-changing experiences.
I also want to assure our agency community that we are ready. We may still be at the mercy of government regulations for the foreseeable future, and await the necessary infrastructure in terms of flights to get people up in the air, but on the ground we – and the local communities we serve – can’t wait to have travellers back.
We’ve been successfully running a handful of trips in a small number of countries for people who can travel, and we are ready to welcome even more travellers back into the world whilst ensuring everyone, including the local communities we visit, are protected.
To learn more about why to book with G Adventures, please click here to see a video specifically created for our travel advisor community.
We can’t wait to see you travelling with us, visiting our big, beautiful world one day soon. Thank you for your continued support, and please keep believing – we are nearly out of this pandemic.
David Green is Vice-President, Commercial at G Adventures.
*Stats based on 1,566 responses from Canadians as part of G Adventures’ consumer panel, of which two thirds are former travellers. The survey was in-field from February 10 -15, 2021.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today