When will it be safe to travel? Where will people want to travel after this outbreak is over? Joanne Wilson, owner of VIP Travel at Highland Village, recently spoke to Senior Sun Staff Writer Anthony Warren about how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected travel and will affect travel in the future.
The travel industry has to be hurting right now.
“The industry as a whole, not just travel agencies. Things have absolutely shut down. Obviously, we are optimistic, because we’ve been through a lot of these major things before and we’ve come back stronger.”
So, what are travel agents doing right now?
“All we’re doing now is canceling and rebooking, but again, there is a pent-up desire to travel, and a lot of people are actively planning their next trips.”
When do you think bookings will pick up again?
“Based on the aftermath of 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008, two events that had a huge impact on travel, travel came back very soon. There will be many factors, because the virus, which is so different than anything we have seen before, will determine when it will be safe to travel. Safety remains the number one criterion. People will likely rely on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other health experts to tell us when it’s going to be safe.”
How is coronavirus different than other things that have affected travel?
“The fact is this is worldwide, and the fact that the shutdown is worldwide is incredible. Ninety percent of flights are canceled right now. That’s amazing. Borders have been closed. These are things we haven’t seen before.”
Do you think people will eventually have to have new documentation when traveling, such as something showing they’re not sick or have been vaccinated?
“Maybe; we don’t know that yet. When this first started, I had a client cruising out of Tahiti. Right before they traveled there, they got a notice saying they would have to have a letter from the doctor saying they were corona-free, so the Tahitian government would let them land. Governments may begin taking temperatures before people land or may have to wear a wristband saying they’re corona-free. We don’t know. It’s all kind of a work in progress.”
As an agent, when would you recommend people begin booking new trips?
“Quite honestly, I’m not comfortable booking anything until July or August, or until the fourth quarter of the year. Once again, we’re all waiting on what happens with the coronavirus, and when it levels out. We’re depending on guidance from the CDC, the World Health Organization and others to tell us when everything can be opened up.”
Do you expect to see a change in where people want to go?
“Yes; the whole landscape of travel is going to change somewhat, particularly as this pandemic plays out. I wouldn’t be surprised if domestic travel is more popular early on, because it’s going to be seen as less risky. International travel will come back, but realistically, it won’t pick up again until after 2021.”
What destinations do you expect to be the more popular destinations?
“I would say the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada will be really popular. Anything that is active and focuses on the outdoors, such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, so places like Colorado, Montana and Hawaii will be popular.”
So, people are still going to be going to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. Those are international destinations. Why do you think they’ll remain popular?
“Because they’re closer to home. People feel they could get back home if they had to.”
Where are people going in Mexico?
“For us, the closest places are Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cabo.”
If people are planning trips stateside, do you think they’ll still come to travel agents?
“There is more value than ever in a travel agent. We have the context to advise our clients on conditions in certain areas. We also can advise them on how to make cancelations and help get refunds for them. Many people who are attempting to get refunds for trips made online are having to deal with a middleman and they’re finding its difficult. Having someone on your side is going to be invaluable.”
Are you seeing more people who rebook or plan new trips buy travel insurance?
“Insurance covers pretty much across the board did not cover things like coronavirus. There was insurance at one point that you could buy that would cover cancelations for any reasons, but most firms have stopped selling that.”
Why is that?
“Because of the liability of it. Cancel for any reason insurance is more expensive.”
How are cruise industries doing now? Do you think cruise industries can survive after all the news coverage given to outbreaks and quarantines aboard ships?
“In the past, things have happened to cruise lines and they’ve come back stronger than before. But I do think there are definitely things that will change as far as cruise lines and what they’re going to look like. The idea of having cleanliness, and the fact that small cruises will probably be more popular in the short-term. You’ll also probably see things like big buffets being a thing of the past.”
What is the typical length of a cruise?
“Those that are closer to home, such as the ones that go to the Caribbean, are usually seven-day cruises, although you can get some that are as short as three days. When you go to Europe or the Far East, it may be longer, seven to 10 days. We have river cruises that are very popular, which are usually seven to 10 days.”
Once everything opens up, do you think there will be a bottleneck, with people wanting to travel all at the same time?
“I definitely think there is a pent-up demand out there. That’s what we’re seeing. People are starting to call to book new things for later in the year, just because they have cabin fever and are ready to get out.”
Are prices going to rise as a result, in terms of resort rates and plane ticket costs?
“As far as airlines go, we’re seeing a lot of incentives, and not only with prices. They’re being very flexible with change fees and policies. Then, of course, as far as resorts go, we’re seeing many resorts adding incentives to get clients to book.”
What are some of those incentives?
“If you go back to cruise lines, many are offering vouchers for people who had to cancel this spring. They are offering 125 percent of the trip costs for future travel. Some resorts are adding packages with free meals, attraction tickets, upgrades and things like that.”
So, cruise lines are paying people to travel with them?
“They’re paying clients to keep their money on deposit with them. If a cruise line cancels a cruise, most will give clients two options: have their money refunded or have them rebook at a future date, and when they do rebook, they put in some kind of incentive.”