A rapid-fire succession of unwelcome news events -- from
reports of illicit alcohol sales in Mexico in August to a hellish trio of
hurricanes in September, a massive earthquake in central Mexico and now a mass
shooting in Las Vegas -- have provided ample evidence of just how quickly
bookings can drop, then pick up again, in the aftermath of calamity.
"There's no doubt that each of these events has
influenced bookings during their duration," said Scott Koepf, senior vice
president of sales for Avoya Travel. "However, we do see the bookings pick
back up and recover. We expect that, given time, the only change will be in the
time frame that bookings are made."
What Koepf and others in the industry observed in the wake
of the recent onslaught of negative news was that while bookings often take a
very direct and potentially severe hit in the immediate aftermath of a
high-profile natural disaster or security threat, as soon as another event
steals the spotlight, those bookings tend to start rebounding relatively
Similarly, John Van Den Heuvel, president of Gogo Vacations,
said that following the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the earthquakes in
Mexico, "we did experience a short period of booking decline centered
around the storms as our teams focused on reaccommodating and rebooking their
customers. Our booking trends have since rebounded and are in line with our
expectations for this time of year."
Conversely, if there is not a news story that overtakes the
headlines and the news cycle gets fixated on one event or destination, the
damage can be more lasting.
For example, Mexico's tourism industry had swung into damage
control mode in August following a series of reports about tainted alcohol
being served at Cancun resorts, followed by a damning travel warning citing an
uptick in homicides in several of Mexico's major resort areas.
The response from Mexico's travel industry made it seem that
they were ready to fight long and hard to restore the country's image. Then an
unrelenting hurricane season hit the Caribbean and Gulf Coast, and the news
media shifted its focus to the resulting devastation there.
Tim Mullen, president of Apple Vacations, said that
following all the bad news out of Mexico, sales were declining. But as of the
second week of September, Apple's Mexico sales started to rebound.
"Is it because [travelers] have short memories or
[because] all the attention is sitting on two Category 5 [storms]?" Mullen
asked. "Or because it's hurricane season in the Caribbean and they're
saying, 'Let's go back to Mexico.' We don't know. But the good news is our
Mexico business is rebounding for 2018."
Steven Gould of Goulds Travel in Clearwater, Fla., agreed
that the attention shift to the Caribbean after the twin storms made it easier
to sell Mexico.
"The media has been inundated by natural disasters, and
that put Mexico issues on the wayside and made it easier to bring Mexico back
into discussion," he said.
Ultimately, there is no precise science to predict the
length of recovery time. While the news media certainly play a role and a shift
in attention away from one crisis can help, travel sellers and packagers report
that it depends on numerous factors, from the level of devastation to the way
governments and their tourism boards work to restimulate demand.
Koepf said, "Every destination has the potential to be
affected by various events, whether man-made or random acts of God. The way
consumers react to those events will vary, but those with an emotional impact
can sometimes take longer to recover.
"The good news is that over time, destinations that are
affected do recover and see a return to normalcy."
For now, Apple's Mullen said, the nonstop onslaught of bad
news is taking a toll on bookings overall. Rather than thinking of vacations,
travelers have been distracted, to say the least.
"Since Labor Day, Americans have faced weather-related --
and now man-made -- disasters each day," he said. "I think we're all
shellshocked by daily news reports, and beach vacations are not top of mind
when faced with reports and images of tragedy."
Nevertheless, he said he is confident that bookings will
start to pick up again and that Apple Vacations will reignite them with an
agent and consumer educational campaign called "The Sun Shines On."
The campaign focuses on destinations like Jamaica and Punta
Cana that haven't been hit by hurricanes.
Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.