Last week I received my first COVID-19 vaccination, and afterwards, I received a card noting the date I would be eligible for my second shot – August 9, 2021.
My automatic reaction was finally, freedom is in sight! I can start planning my travel with more certainty. I have already booked a G Adventures Sailing trip in St Lucia in November, but now I can plan a second trip in September, a full 18 months after the last time I set foot on a flight.
I know I am not alone.
With many parts of Canada now opening up shots to those 40+ (with the AstraZeneca vaccination now eligible for 30+ years announced as I write this) we now have a new, younger market of people who will be hoping to make similar plans to be able to travel this year.
In fact, our most recent data suggests 29% of Canadian travellers aged between 35 and 54 years old will book a trip so long as they know approximately when they are being vaccinated.
This stat is based on 1,566 responses, gathered February 10-15, 2021, from Canadians as part of G Adventures’ consumer panel of which two thirds are former travellers.
This research presents us with a huge opportunity to encourage clients to book now, for travel later.
However, despite my excitement at the progress made, the same consumer confidence hurdle remains in terms of direction from the government and the increasingly apparent lack of a roadmap for the return of international travel.
While the travel industry attempts to second guess what the government's roadmap is, most agents are booking into 2022 as a means of “comfort” when they believe things will be “normal” whatever the new normal is.
But, what happens when this large group of people hungry to travel are all fully vaccinated by August or September? What rules will apply then?
What can we implement, now, so more people feel confident to book now, especially when they know when they are likely to be fully vaccinated?
At this stage, 27% of Canadians have received their first dose, and with the possibility of more vaccines arriving from across the border, that number could dramatically increase fast.
Agents and suppliers aren’t able to recognize their revenue until people travel, so it’s imperative that they feel confident to book their travellers when they know they will be ready to go. We should be seeing considerably higher numbers from September this year.
If all things head in the right direction with vaccinations, the government should be opening borders in line with decreased COVID-19 case numbers and increased vaccination rates.
It’s my opinion that we need to be doing more to kick-start travel in the final quarter of this year rather than in 2022, and the booking numbers are slowly starting to trend this way as we get more needles into arms.
As an industry, we need to keep putting pressure on the government to remove hotel quarantines on return to Canada within a reasonable timeframe, and replace them with rapid testing and at-home isolation until the all clear has been given.
We need to learn to live with this virus as it will not be disappearing completely anytime soon. As vaccinations increase and hospitalizations and risk reduce, we should be able to plan with certainty.
We can also look across the pond (rather than below the border!) to the U.K., which is releasing a traffic light system to restart international travel from May 17.
Green light means no quarantine (generally to be used for countries with high vaccination rates and a low number of COVID-19 cases) and orange means the ability to quarantine at home.
Red is for the highest-risk countries and comes with a recommended “do not travel” warning and requires a full hotel quarantine with testing on return.
We also need to work with international organizations on a standardized vaccine passport for travel. While this is a highly politicized concept (we have had health passports for travel for many years), if this is going to be required, travellers should have access to this information sooner rather than later to build their confidence in being able to travel safely with ease.
The current lack of clarity is hindering small businesses from forward planning and making bookings for this calendar year, and is leading to confusion for the traveller.
It is my view, that when people are fully vaccinated they should be able to travel so long as they continue to follow clear guidelines that help to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
So, I say again to my industry friends: don’t look to 2022 as the “safe bet."
Look at the vaccination trends, talk to your clients about when they are likely to be fully vaccinated and plan to realize more bookings that depart in 2021.
I’m confident that while we don’t have a clear government roadmap yet, it's inevitably going to follow what we have seen working in countries such as the U.K. as they tackle the same pandemic.
I believe we will soon be looking at both health passports and a traffic light system becoming a reality for travel.
It’s our job to keep the travel dream alive, so while there are still uncertainties, what we do know is people are getting vaccinated, they know when to expect their second shot, they are ready to book now, and they are most certainly hungry to travel as soon as they can.
At G Adventures, we have flexible booking policies in place to protect travellers, as well as our Life Time Deposit Policy, improved booking and cancellation terms, and of course the knowledge that we are already travelling, with more than 100 tours having departed since September 2020.
David Green is Vice President, Commercial at G Adventures.
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