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As some cities and countries around the world implement regulations to stop a second wave of COVID-19, all signs seem to indicate that American travelers are feeling optimistic and ready to travel in 2021 — or even sooner. The number of U.S. air travelers hit a pandemic-era high during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, while the latest numbers from MMGY Global’s Travel Intentions Pulse Survey show increased confidence in making new travel plans.
As cooped up travelers look to the future, travel advisors are urged to start planning and booking their clients’ 2021-2022 vacations now, with a focus on bucket-list trips. For Mimi Lichtenstein, the founder and custom travel advisor behind Truvay Travel, this means prioritizing trips to places her clients have always dreamed of visiting.
“There is this feeling that life is short and you never know what will happen, so rather than save the best for last, plan the top destinations first,” Lichtenstein said.
There is this feeling that life is short and you never know what will happen, so rather than save the best for last, plan the top destinations first.
Most recently, she has worked with her clients on Irish golf trips, extended warm-weather getaways for the winter and a trip to trace a family’s roots through the U.K.
Lichtenstein also emphasized the importance of planning ahead for vacations to bucket-list destinations that require extensive planning, such as African safaris or trips to Alaska and the Galapagos Islands.
“Since so many trips were cancelled or rescheduled to the following year, the inventory is tight for 2021,” she said. “Some of my clients have begun thinking about 2022 in the hopes things will be more normal and certain by then.”
Sasha Andrews, Exodus Travels’ North American director of industry relations, reiterates the same advice, adding that the company has already sold out on many of its small-group trips for 2021 and 2022. Exodus has also seen an influx of clients booking full departures for private groups.
“We definitely recommend securing space early. Pent-up demand for future travel is very real, and iconic, bucket-list adventures are in high demand in the post-COVID-19 travel world,” Andrews said, adding that the company’s active travel portfolio is particularly popular these days. “Clients have been stuck inside and many are looking to get out and walk, hike, trek or cycle in nature, far away from crowds.”
Since so many trips were cancelled or rescheduled to the following year, the inventory is tight for 2021.
Intrepid Travel has also seen similar increases in bookings, especially for remote trips in adventure-filled destinations that are ideal for social distancing. In October, Intrepid saw significant sales growth for the Galapagos, Antarctica, Tanzania and Madagascar, which saw a revenue increase of 33%, according to Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s North America managing director. Clients are also reserving these trips far in advance.
“Our growing 2021 bookings tell us that customers are eager to explore the world next year, safely,” Berna said. “In October, our average lead time in North America was 328 days. We noted similar lead times in prior months. The story this data tells us is that waiting through the pandemic has encouraged travelers to turn their dreams into a reality.”
In addition to an eagerness to travel, other factors seem to be influencing sales and making it all the more important to book clients as soon as possible.
“News of the potential Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the United States’ announcement of President-elect Joe Biden have increased the potential for safer return to travel sooner,” Berna said. “Following these announcements, Intrepid Travel’s global website visits increased by 24%.”
Berna predicts that this spike in visits will translate into more bookings.
What Advisors Need From Suppliers Regarding Future BookingsWhen asked what advice she has for her fellow travel advisors in navigating these tough times, Lichtenstein says she pays closer attention to cancellation policies, deposit amounts, insurance and the partner’s history of being flexible earlier this year.
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“I think it’s important to have transparency, fairness and empathy right now,” she said. “Generally, I appreciate as favorable terms as possible for my clients, but I also don’t want it to be at the expense of my partners.”
Lichtenstein also suggests looking at the bigger picture and creating a strategic vision of what a client’s travel plans will look like in the next five to 10 years. Knowing her clients’ dream destinations allows Lichtenstein to keep the travel spark present in their lives by sending articles, recipes or movie suggestions featuring the places they want to go.
“Reveling in the anticipation of an upcoming vacation is a big contributor to happiness,” she said. “As travel advisors, our job is to help keep our clients’ vacation dreams alive.”