The emergence of the omicron variant has thrown yet more hurdles at pandemic-weary travel advisors. Still, they report that travelers' spirits have not been considerably dampened despite cruise port closures and holiday flight cancellations.
If anything, the surge of the variant as the world enters its third calendar year battling Covid seems to have hardened travelers' resolve.
"At this point in the pandemic, our clients are very well aware of the travel restrictions and the risks that are involved with traveling internationally," said Karen Magee, senior vice president and general manager of In the Know Experiences. "So, while this variant is clearly more contagious and has seemingly increased the likelihood that travel could be impacted, most are experienced and prepared in managing the associated inconveniences."
In the Know Experiences is part of Internova Travel Group's luxury division, Global Travel Collection. Magee said the company's advisors are well-versed in things that help mitigate the challenges presented with traveling today, including travel insurance and medical evacuation alternatives.
While some clients have opted to cancel travel plans, many are still forging ahead, especially if their departure is more than six weeks out, advisors reported.
Last Tuesday, Tom Baker was at sea aboard the Crystal Symphony. Baker, the president of CruiseCenter in Houston, said his agency is "getting plenty of nervous calls, but only two cancellations thus far."
"More are upset having compulsory mask-wearing," Baker added.
Onboard the ship, Baker said three crew members, but no guests, had tested positive. Crystal Cruises requires all guests 12 and older to be fully vaccinated, while accepting a "limited number" of guests under 12 who have not been vaccinated. Beginning April 1, all guests age 5 and older will need to be vaccinated to sail. The crew has been fully vaccinated.
Baker said concerns around omicron could lessen going forward.
"I think this may calm as delta did," he said. "Many clients have just said they are over it and going anyway."
Advisors rush to make changes
Last week, Kristen Sandvig, owner of Lionhound Travel in Houston, was dealing with the changing plans of a handful of clients who were traveling in Europe during the festive season.
Sandvig had clients in the U.K. and France. The rush of work began less than two weeks before their departures when France closed its doors to travelers from the U.K. It caused "a lot of last-minute scrambling" to deal with canceled trains, full hotels and high festive season rates, the owner of the Brownell Travel affiliate said.
That came "on top of working to get refunds and get vouchers for future travel, and it was just very inconvenient timing at one of the busiest times of the year to have to rework everything so last minute," Sandvig said.
Her clients did continue with their plans, but last Tuesday she was still working with hotel partners to find adequate New Year's Eve reservations.
"Hotel concierges have really been my way to get stuff to happen now, and I have been really impressed with the response that I've been getting from them," she said. "I couldn't do it without our hotel partners right now."
Sandvig has a number of client trips on the books for 2022. Many, especially those traveling more than six weeks out, are taking a wait-and-see approach to travel. Clients seem more open to waiting than ever before, she said.
Travelers go with the flow
Clients are also more willing to go with the flow and accept changes that would likely have caused some angst before the pandemic, said Rick Saltarelli, who with his wife Karen, owns Salty Breeze Cruise Planners in Largo, Fla.
Right now, there are people that just want to get out there and get on the ship again.
Saltarelli hasn't had any omicron-related cancellations so far, he said last week. In fact, clients continue to book big-ticket cruises, like world cruises or weeks-long legs of world cruises, transatlantic journeys and more. Salty Breeze has eclipsed 2019 sales in 2021 and already has around 70% of its sales goal for 2022 on the books.
"Nothing has slowed down," he said. "I have not had people call, even people who are cruising in the next two to three weeks."
Clients' sole concern seems to be getting stuck aboard a ship barred from its homeport due to cases onboard, but Saltarelli said he does not believe that is a scenario that will play out going forward. He has also noticed an increased resilience among clients who, in the past, may have balked at things like itinerary changes.
"I think, right now, there are people that just want to get out there and get on the ship again," he said.