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News that a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is remarkably effective at preventing the disease sent a number of travel industry stocks soaring early this week, including double-digit jumps for several cruise companies, airlines and online travel agencies.
Pfizer Inc. officials said on Monday the company’s two-dose vaccine candidate demonstrated an efficacy rate of more than 90% in early clinical trials, a development that generated hopeful headlines across the country and surprised some tourism stakeholders.
“That is very different than what we anticipated,” said Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, a practicing emergency room physician who helped create the state’s pretest plan for trans-Pacific visitors. “We thought it would be 60% to 70% effective. If it’s over 90% effective, that will help us get through the next phase of the pandemic without as much damage.”
We thought it would be 60% to 70% effective. If it’s over 90% effective, that will help us get through the next phase of the pandemic without as much damage.
Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Travel Leaders’ parent company, Internova Travel Group, said Pfizer’s Monday announcement about its COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy was transformative for the tourism business.
“This week’s news was a turning point for our industry,” Vlitas insisted. “This is what we were waiting for.”
Vlitas said Internova conducted snapshot surveys right after the Pfizer news broke, looking to gauge its impact on potential travelers, and the results were lopsided.
“Consumer confidence just soared,” he said. “The minute the vaccine news came out, it just soared, and it’s the first step where we feel this is the beginning of the end.”
The minute the vaccine news came out, it just soared, and it’s the first step where we feel this is the beginning of the end.
A number of Travel Leaders advisors also reported an increase in travel requests this week, according to Vlitas.
"We got high demand for Italy; we had high demand for Greece,” he said. “We had high demand for Spain. ... The earliest I saw the inquiries and the bookings coming in for was April. It looks like it will be a pent-up upswing in April, a little flat in May and then shoot back up June, July and August.”
Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said the wholesaler hasn’t yet seen any evidence of an increase in bookings, but he’s hopeful the vaccine news might ultimately boost business.
“In talking to my sales team, talking to suppliers, talking to everybody, it definitely lifted confidence,” Richards said. “And everybody is hoping for a spike in bookings for 2021 travel, but I don’t think anybody expects a spike in travel for 2020.”
Richards noted, however, that there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the vaccine itself not to mention the logistical challenges related to global distribution if it is ultimately approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"Then there is a question that really needs to be tackled: Is there a widespread willingness among people to take the vaccine?” Richards said. “I think the research is mixed right now, depending on what study you look at.”
RELATED: Traveler Sentiment Research Shows Mixed Feelings About Vaccine
Jenn Lee, vice president of sales and marketing for Travel Planners International, said the advisors she has spoken to this week were cautiously optimistic following the Pfizer vaccine news, and every step forward is positive. But like Richards, Lee had questions about how many people might ultimately take a COVID-19 vaccine, and she noted many have already decided they feel safe enough to travel without one.
"Travel advisors are booking travel left and right in 2021,” Lee said. “There are millions of people that are going to travel with or without the vaccine. They could care less.”
Lee is, in fact, worried a COVID-19 vaccine might ultimately be damaging for the travel industry.
But if places start requiring the vaccine, there are going to be plenty of people who say, ‘No. I’m not going to take a vaccine to go on this vacation. I’ll take a test, but I’m not going to take a vaccine.’
“The test is no big deal; it’s a cotton swab up your nose,” Lee said of COVID-19 pretests mandated now by many destinations. “Travelers who want to travel are like, ‘Great. I’m traveling with other people who took a test. I’m taking a test. That’s cool.’ ... But if places start requiring the vaccine, there are going to be plenty of people who say, ‘No. I’m not going to take a vaccine to go on this vacation. I’ll take a test, but I’m not going to take a vaccine. I’ll wear a mask. But you’re not going to inject me with a vaccine that I don’t want.’ I don’t see a vaccine as the next silver bullet at all.”
Janet Mosley, the owner of Leisure Lady Travel in Westland, Mich., said some of her clients are uncomfortable with the idea of a COVID-19 vaccine that’s been rushed into production.
"One of them told me, ‘I would rather mask up and take my chances with that rather than the unknown side effects of the vaccine,’” Mosley said. “She was worried about the potential consequences and said, ‘I’d rather be inconvenienced for a short time than be saddled with a condition for a lifetime.’”
Mosley has been booking more and more vacations for many of her clients but said she has not seen substantial uptick in inquiries following the Pfizer announcement earlier this week. Mosely does, however, view the news about the drug maker’s vaccine as overwhelmingly positive.
“Those of us who are in the business as career agents, we are grasping at whatever,” Mosley said. “We’re looking for hope. So, hearing there’s a vaccine that is showing it’s 90% effective — hallelujah. We are happy. We’ve been searching, and we needed a win.”