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."

Scott Koepf
Scott Koepf

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 quickly.

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.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI