Omicron ruined just about everything this holiday season, from thousands of flights canceled globally at Christmas to downsizing New Year's Eve plans (not to mention the fluctuation of travel restrictions and tighter testing windows).
And the variant looks like it will continue to upend plans as we head into 2022.
But tour operators say that while there has been a slowdown in new bookings recently, the impact of omicron on existing bookings in the present and near-term remains minimal, and prospects are generally positive in 2022.
"USTOA's tour operator members have become adept at handling whatever challenges this pandemic continues to throw at them," said CEO Terry Dale.
Operators report that early 2022 looks promising -- even in the masked face of Covid.
"We are indeed booking forward vacations for 2022, and, in fact, overall demand for 2022 looks healthy despite a slowdown in advance bookings in recent weeks," said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands. "We've been able to successfully operate hundreds of departures this year, and that includes managing around changing entry requirements. Overall, we've been able to maintain operations to most European destinations."
There have, however, been some exceptions. Born said tours and cruises that had included Austria were canceled when the country went into a 20-day lockdown on Nov. 22 and when Germany axed its major Christmas markets along the Danube. Recent tours to the U.K., Israel and Morocco were also canceled due to changes in quarantine requirements, visitor entry restrictions and flight cancellations.
Globus offers its Peace of Mind policy, which gives travelers the opportunity to move their booking to a new date (through 2023), a new itinerary or even a different Globus brand -- a policy good for all 2022 bookings. Born said when the company proactively cancels trips due to circumstances outside of its control, it also offers clients rebooking incentives.
Being out on safari is one of the best places to be now.
"We understood that the world was changing," he said. "But our commitment to guest safety and peace of mind while traveling -- including offering worry-free, strings-free bookings -- would remain an important component of our new world."
Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent experienced similar impacts from omicron. The company offers credits toward future travel for canceled or shortened trips and enables guests to change or cancel trips as late as 15 days prior to departure for Covid-related reasons.
"We developed our Book With Confidence flexible booking policy in response to Covid. One of the aspects guests appreciate is the ability to put a credit toward travel anywhere in the world, not just the destination where they originally booked," said Jean Fawcett, an A&K spokeswoman.
When omicron first emerged in November in South Africa, affected A&K clients were given the option to either cut trips short or remain on safari; guests chose the latter.
"Being out on safari is one of the best places to be now," Fawcett said.
The company's 2022 calendar is filling up quickly, she added.
"Bucket-list destinations, especially those centered around outdoor experiences -- like Egypt, African safaris and Peru -- have generated the most interest."