Tour operators draw encouragement from vaccine news

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Tour operators speaking on a panel with USTOA chief Terry Dale say the vaccine news gives them reason for optimism.
Tour operators speaking on a panel with USTOA chief Terry Dale say the vaccine news gives them reason for optimism.

Recent advancements in testing and vaccines for the Covid-19 virus have given companies fresh optimism about a 2021 return to travel, but members of the USTOA told the organization's virtual conference Thursday they remain cautious about recovery.

"I don't think it's going to be fast. And it's going to be bumpy along the way. But it's coming," said Jeremy Palmer,  senior vice president of Tauck.

Participants expressed some wariness about getting on planes and trains and even about getting the Covid vaccine in a conversation with USTOA chief Terry Dale.

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Likewise, Ray Hourani, director, Travel Air Operations, Club Adventures by AAA Exclusive Vacations, said he is optimistic but cautioned that there have also been "a lot of false starts."

Elizabeth Crabill, CEO of CIE Tours, called the outlook for 2021 "promising. And I would not have said that a few months ago."

"We have a path forward, and there's is a light starting to dawn," she said.

One encouraging sign, Dana Santucci, vice president of EF Educational Tours, said is the ongoing dedication and enthusiasm for travel that she continues to see from customers.

"As soon as the world is ready, I know they are ready [to travel]," she said.

• Related: How the Covid vaccine news is fueling a new enthusiasm for travel

On the flip side, Palmer said that while news about the vaccine "is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for starting to manage Covid and move beyond it, what we see when we survey our guests is now that the vaccine is so close, and the fear is rising again, they are saying, 'You know what, I think I am going to wait until I get the vaccine before I book travel.'"

Palmer said that when Tauck asked its guests in the early summer if they would travel without a vaccine, 65% said yes.

"Now it's less than 25%," he said. "So long term it's promising, but short term we think it's pushing out the booking curve in 2021."

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