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Travel advisors are split on the prospects for group travel following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recent research conducted by TravelAge West. The survey of nearly 400 advisors — part of the Need to Know series — showed that a little less than one-third (28%) of advisors had a canceled group booking from 2020 reschedule to 2021; another 18% had a group reschedule for 2022; but most (35%) have not seen groups reschedule yet.
“I had 80% of my 2020 group bookings rebook for same time 2021,” said Suzy Schreiner, owner of Azure Blue Vacations in Bothell, Wash. “Of those groups, 60% has already had their tours or cruises suspended. Thankfully, all have opted to rebook for 2022. I attribute part of the reason to consistent communication with group members and a positive attitude when discussing the travel regulations and policies and how they affect their trips.”
Not surprisingly, group bookings in general are down as a result of the pandemic: More than three-quarters (79%) of respondents say they had to cancel a group booking in 2020, and 76% say it makes up less than 10% of their current business mix. Comparatively, 63% of advisors say that in a normal year, group bookings account for more than 10% of their business.
Looking ahead, advisors are also split on how interested their clients will be in group bookings once they begin traveling again — about one-quarter (26%) say people will be more interested, while nearly the same number (25%) feel they will be less interested. Another one-third (32%) of agents think there will be no difference than in previous years, and the remaining 17% are not sure.
“I believe that we will see more group travel as clients feel like they can make plans they can count on,” Schreiner said. “The biggest deterrent has been the lack of ability to truly plan and look forward to a vacation together. It is easier to make plans as a single family or a couple, when possible cancellations only affect you.”
I believe that we will see more group travel as clients feel like they can make plans they can count on.
However, there is a bit more optimism when it comes to family travel bookings — including multigenerational groups — with 40% of advisors expecting it to rebound faster than other types of travel. In addition, about two-thirds have already seen interest in travel related to celebrating a milestone event in 2021 (29%) or 2022 (33%).
“In the past two weeks, I booked three sets of clients on trips to Hawaii and the Caribbean to celebrate milestone birthdays this spring,” Schreiner said. “Plus, I have a group heading to Mexico in March to celebrate their high schoolers turning 18. People want a reason to celebrate. It’s a way for them to say, ‘I made it through.’”
Schreiner feels that increased vaccine rollout and decreased infection rates will have an impact on both political regulations and news media messaging, and will be the biggest factors in more group travel.
“I recently took a poll of my river cruise clients regarding the issue of vaccine requirements,” she said. “Half felt that required vaccines encouraged them to book and 40% said it was a deterrent. My plan is to adjust my marketing to address the needs and concerns of both groups.”
“Need to Know” is a research series from TravelAge West that tracks the responses of advisors as they relate to various travel trends and topics. This survey recorded the responses of 399 advisors across the U.S. Click here to see more Need to Know stories.