There has been a dramatic shift in consumer desire to get back on the road over the past few weeks, and advisors are key to providing the expertise that will give travelers the confidence needed to guide the industry to recovery.
Those were the key and oft-repeated messages over the past two weeks from Apple Leisure Group (ALG) executives, both at their virtual Ascend Summit and again in online briefings with travel media.
"The last four weeks have been like a breath of fresh air for agents," Jim Tedesco, vice president of sales for ALG Vacations, said during a virtual press conference. "They are starting to see more people contacting them, more people excited about travel."
Even group travel is on the rebound, according to group sales vice president Mike Ehlers, with groups moving from a cancellation-and-rebooking phase to new bookings, which he said have increased dramatically in recent weeks.
On the leisure side, recent surveys by the company show people are increasingly ready to resume traveling, with 62% of travelers polled saying they were ready to travel again despite Covid-19 safety issues, the executives said.
The top destination for both leisure and group travel is Mexico, with its restriction-free open border, and more specifically Cancun, they said. But company executive chairman Alex Zozaya said he and his team are working closely with other governments to open borders.
Zozaya, who is a vice chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the group will hold a meeting with tourism officials from the G-20 countries when they meet in Saudi Arabia, in hopes of developing uniform policies for eliminating border restrictions and quarantine rules to reopen global travel.
"What we are going to try to accomplish is to unify protocols, to make sure that within these 20 countries, the protocols to travel from country to country would be accepted both ways," he said.
"If that happens, it's huge, because the whole world will follow. These G-20 countries represent 80% of global tourism. So even if it's not all 20, even if we get to like 15 or 16 of these countries that agree and support, that use the same protocols to travel within these countries, and we create this link, it will be huge."
As travel reopens, executives said agents are more important than ever in helping rebuild consumer confidence to travel. And they vowed to continue listening to advisor concerns and tweaking their increasingly flexible policies, if necessary, to help agents rebuild their business.
"Your expert advice provides an amazing value to the passengers, and it's important as we build back that traveler confidence. You are very much needed," ALG CEO Alejandro Reynal told a group of top-selling agents at Ascend.
Executive vice president Jackie Marks said the company has used the pandemic downtime to hold webinars and listen to agent concerns and needs.
In response, she said, the company will extend through 2021 the ability to change reservations made before the end of this year without a fee. But she said the company has decided against paying commissions at the time of final payment because travelers are simply making too many changes that would require the commission payment to be retracted.
Still, she said, ALG remains committed to the advisor community, "So we'll never say never. The time is just not right for that right now."
Likewise, Marks said the company has no plans to eliminate cancellation fees, as "it's not in the best interest for any of us to have customers just walk away."