The travel industry took one of the hardest hits from the coronavirus pandemic, causing the industry to be thrown into a tailspin and vendors and travel advisors alike to deal with a world of unknowns.
The travel industry is still unsure of when things can resume to normal, or what the new normal will be.
Local travel advisor Annette Duplichan, the owner of Great White Travels a Cruise Planners Franchise, explains how the industry has adapted to the pandemic and the uncertainty that lies within getting the travel industry back to normal.
Tourism is a significant economic driver across the world. In the United States, tourism accounts for 7.7 million jobs and $1.5 trillion in spending.
When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, the tourism industry is often drastically affected.
“From the get-go our industry crashed first. The first couple weeks I did not want to open emails, I wondered what was going to happen today or who was going to cancel today” said Annette.
A system overload from the mass of cancellations caused the system to be unable to issue refunds and ultimately increase the panic of travelers trying to rebook and get refunds.
“What we have seen, and it's not over, there are a lot of things that are still trickling down, the immediate effect was all of the cancellations across all suppliers and the system overload of all of that. That was the first hurdle. No one was equipped for that,” said Annette.
Some companies were not able to recover from this incident, such as BookIt.com.
While other companies have travelers upset such as Expedia.com for not issuing refunds.
“You can have natural disasters such as hurricanes that will cause cancellations and trickle effects but not on this scale, this was worldwide. This started a very dark period in every travel advisor's world. We weren't equipped for that, and suppliers and vendors were definitely not equipped for that,” said Annette.
Travel advisors are losing their livelihood, and continue to work for free until things begin to open up and people start traveling again.
Annette informed us of how DC is working towards making sure travel advisors are not forgotten when it comes to unemployment, “The past 2 ½ months have been a learning experience for everyone. What I am seeing now, from communication and webinars in the industry and so much avocation in DC for travel advisors to be included in unemployment.”
“So here we are, everyone is losing vacations, plans for the year, dream trips and no one can get refunds because the systems can't handle all the cancellations,” said Annette.
However, Annette ensures that there is still hope because people are itching to get out, they want to get out and see what's open and where they can go.
“All the vendors have given travelers very nice lucrative offers to rebook, and that is the major focus right now, getting people to rebook their travel,” said Annette.
The industry is beginning to open back up, with restrictions being lifted and travel bans going away, quarantine and stay at home orders have travelers ready to venture out.
“What we are seeing is that people just want some kind of getaway, where can you send me , where can you send me this weekend. From my business, about 90% of my clientele are taking advantage of those rebooking offers, whether it be rebooking credit, onboard credit, future travel credit, evoucher for fights, whatever they are being offered for the cancellations. About 90% of my clients are doing that,” said Annette.
“People who travel are going to rebook. The ones that are not, the ones who are not ready to go out are the ones who have at-risk conditions and are at a greater risk of contracting covid, or they have lost employment and can no longer afford to travel. The people who are travelers are going to book something,” said Annette.
Annette said that locally, she has seen some bookings come through her office. Recently she has been working on a honeymoon in Florida, a family vacation in Charleston, re-bookings for groups that got cancelled on Carnival, flights to go visit grandkids for grandparents who are wanting to go see their grandkids, because the haven't seen them in 3 months,” said Annette.
People are wanting to travel again, which is a bright light in the travel world for travel advisors and the industry alike, the caveat is going to be what is open and what people can do, and where they can go.
The industry is changing, there are going to be new normals, such as after September 11th, new policies were implemented that continue to this day.
“There are going to be long term changes,” warned Annette, “but they will be towards the way people travel not the why.”
Controlled capacity is the new terminology in the travel world.
Hotels, airlines, cruise lines, tour companies are going to have controlled capacity for the next 6-8, 6-10, 6-12 months, or longer no one knows how long controlled capacity will last.
Beauregard and Vernon Parish are between 2 major ports, Galveston and New Orleans, for cruise ships, Carnival will have 3 ships ported there when they resume sailing August 1.
“I have not gotten questions about what they are doing to protect me, because what I found is that travelers are already getting that information before I can put it out there. From Facebook, travel articles, they are already in the know. It's the people who aren't frequent travelers who are asking those questions,“ said Annette.
“We don't know what it is going to look like. It all depends on what the CDC recommends when we get back into the travel world. We know hotels are increasing sanitation, we know what cruise lines are doing, we know what airlines are doing. Everyone has rolled out protocols Is it enough? We don't know, but people are ready. The pent up need is there,” said Annette.
Annette stated chatter in the cruise industry said that 2021 Carnival bookings are at 2020 rates or surpassed, due to people wanting to rebook and the packages are making travel appealing.
“I'm excited. I hope that there is some recuperation of 2020. It is not going to be enough, but it looks like 2021 is going to be okay,” said Annette.
The travel industry has heard talks of prices going up after regulations are lifted causing vendors to raise their prices to recoup for lost income due to the pandemic.
However, Annette does not see that currently, “Prices right now are low, but there is chatter that prices will go up. We have not seen that yet. We do not know if that is going to come, because companies have to recoup their business somehow. But we are not seeing that right now. We are seeing attractive offers. To not only book later in 2020 but to book into 2021 and some have opened their itineraries for 2022-2023.”
The pandemic exposed some weak spots in the travel industry, ones that Annette hopes travelers will learn from, especially the importance of using a travel advisor to book travel.
“We learned the hard way that some vendors were better prepared and responded more favorably than others did. People do not realize that they are paying a travel advisors commission whether they book directly from the site or not, the prices are just built into the price,” said Annette.
Another light at the end of the pandemic tunnel Annette hopes to see is the value of a travel advisor and the flourishing of the industry.
“The value of a travel advisor after this is going to be higher, they don't want to be on hold for cancellations and refunds for hours on end. They want someone who knows the in and outs of the industry.”
The other issue that Annette informed us about travel that people are not aware of, is passport issuing.
If you have a passport that expires within 6 months of your travel date, you cannot get it renewed right now, and the issue has not been addressed yet.
There was a mandate for Real ID for travel, ensuring all travelers had an updated ID that was required by October 2020, but the deadline has been extended until October 2021.
“If you rebook an international travel and your passport expires before your travel you cannot get your passport processed right now and there is no timeline for this to be solved. There is no telling when this will be available. There are going to be new standards coming out with that as well. Maybe travel companies will extend that, I think that there is going to be long term changes we just don't know them all yet,” said Annette.
The need to travel is still there, and that is all the hope the industry needs.
For more on the Rebuilding America initiative visit https://www.usatoday.com/rebuilding-america/.