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Beach vacations, all-inclusive resorts and traveling within the continental U.S./Canada are among clients’ top interests for future travel, according to a survey of TravelAge West’s (TAW) travel advisor readers. The study, conducted by TAW during the week of May 18, 2020, examines how advisors see their business recovery and supplier relationships going forward, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Out of the more than 1,000 respondents, 35% identify as an independent contractor, 32% as a travel agency owner, 15% as a frontline agent, 9% as other and 8% as a manager.
According to the survey results, the top four client destination interests for new 2020 bookings are continental United States/Canada (76%), Caribbean (59%), Hawaii (46%) and Mexico (42%). For new 2021 bookings, however, the top four destinations of interest are continental U.S./Canada (55%), Caribbean (54%), Europe (51%) and Hawaii (37%).
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Beach locations rank the highest in terms of destination types for new bookings, with 80.51% of clients expressing interest in beach vacations. Less than half of clients (41.77%) are interested in smaller towns, followed by large cities and towns (29.42%) and very remote villages and natural areas (29.3%).
Opinions also vary on the types of accommodations that clients will book. Following the lift of travel restrictions, 59.82% of clients are likely to book an all-inclusive resort — perhaps drawn to the idea of numerous activities and offerings inside a controlled area with health and safety restrictions. About one-third (32.75%) are considering a standard hotel, while only 7.43% may book an Airbnb or similar rental service.
Most advisors (53.4%) do not anticipate hotel size having an impact on clients’ decision to book their stay. However, 27.96% believe that clients are more likely to book at larger, well-known hotel brands, and 18.64% say that clients will more likely opt to book at smaller, independent hotels or private rentals.
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Though the majority of advisors expect to see an increase in road trips and drivable vacations, 54.28% think clients will be more likely book those trips themselves while 26.2% say they will most likely book clients’ car rentals. Less than one-fifth (19.52%) expect to see little increase in this type of travel.
Eighty-five percent of respondents agree that more flexible cancellation policies will give clients the confidence to book further out. Still, 9.57% say it’s too early to tell, and 5.42% disagreed completely, noting that clients are hesitant to book regardless of suppliers’ cancellation policies.
Out of new products or destinations, if any, that advisors see an opportunity with in the new COVID-19 landscape, write-in answers include domestic travel (16%); smaller travel options, such as smaller ships, smaller groups and smaller hotels (14%); and outdoor experiences, including national parks, beaches, mountains, camping/glamping and RV trips (14%). Other responses are private options for villas/vacation rentals, tours, planes and boats/yachts (9%); closer-to-home and drivable destinations (9%); off-the-beaten-path experiences (7%); U.S. river cruises (6%); assurance of safety measures and cleanliness (6%); and travel insurance (4%).
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To prepare for the reopening of tourism, advisors are looking to their supplier partners for help. This includes receiving updates on changes via marketing (84.04%), education via webinars and courses (65.17%), personalized one-to-one connections with their BDM (38.92%), virtual tradeshows (30.61%) and leadership panels or town halls (19.53%).
As for marketing messages that advisors are interested in seeing from suppliers at this time, 70.84% want offers and promotions; 77.44% are looking for health/safety and post-COVID-19 strategies; and 30.34% prefer inspirational and motivational content. Advisors prefer to receive detailed information on supplier operation protocols for health and safety via email from supplier/BDM (90.11%), supplier website (48.15%), travel trade website (25.07%), consortium website (22.96%) and direct mail (13.32%).
Email is the most-favored method of communication to develop and maintain supplier relationships during this time, with 80.87% indicating as such. Webinars are also highly effective (65.44%), followed by small group video conference calls (29.68%), phone calls (29.02%) and one-to-one video conference calls (15.96%).
An equal number of advisors (31%) either anticipate feeling comfortable resuming fam trips by Sept. 1, 2020, or currently feel it’s too early to tell. Meanwhile, 17% think they’ll feel comfortable doing so by Nov. 1, 2020, and 15% listed Jan. 1, 2021.