Before the pandemic, it was a lot easier to speak in absolutes.
Take, for instance, this snippet from a January 2019 article I wrote: "Travel agency executives closed the books on a solid 2018 and are looking to another 12 months of prosperity." Simple. To the point.
Lately, this is the phrase I've wanted to write: Business is booming for travel agencies.
While my glasses are probably a little rose-tinted when I think about pre-Covid times, I think it's fair to say "business is booming" is too black and white for today.
All signs point to that being the case for most agencies. But at what cost for travel advisors, their stress levels and their mental health?
Travel Experts, the luxury-focused, Raleigh, N.C.-based host agency, recently found that 2022 could be the most profitable year for many of its advisors.
Multiple affiliates reported 2022 as being on track to being their busiest on the books. Europe is proving to be a popular destination, and big, blowout trips are also on the menu. Family and multigenerational travel are both roaring.
But challenges have also cropped up: lack of availability, high prices, service levels not up to snuff, Covid-related restrictions and more.
Sharon Fake, Travel Experts' director of operations, said the advisors who stayed the course throughout the past two-plus years and kept in touch with clients have been rewarded with "huge increases" in their businesses.
In fact, the host agency has noticed a new trend, Fake said. On an internal blog, advisors are posting notices like this: "I am maxed out. I have so-and-so who only books five-star hotels and this, that and the other, and I just cannot give them the attention that they need. Can someone help?"
Many advisors are no strangers to declining a booking if the client isn't a right fit. But these aren't exactly inside-cabin, spring break bargain cruisers who are calling.
"It's a tough choice," Fake said. "That's one of the stresses right now. How do they maintain their reputation for giving the highest-quality attention and work and yet not spread themselves too thin, even with assistance? It's definitely a situation when people are working much longer hours, and expectations are also much higher, probably, than they've ever been."
Agents are stressed for all of the aforementioned reasons, she said, but their love of the business keeps them going.
New entrants with diverse backgrounds are also coming to the industry; the resumes Travel Experts has seen recently have been impressive, Fake said. And with so much business floating around, they are seeing success.
It does seem that this period of uncertainty -- when business is booming, but there could be more shoes dropping -- will be with us for some time. It's also unclear how long the period of intense demand will last.
Nothing is black and white anymore. But if we have to live in a gray area, at least the phone's ringing.