Even as conferences were being cancelled, colleges were
going online, businesses were grounding travel and consumer fears of Covid-19
grew, last week it seemed that there was still evidence that consumer demand
for travel remained high, with advisors and suppliers reporting that many
clients are continuing with spring break and other travel plans.
This desire to travel despite wall-to-wall coverage of
Covid-19 suggests that while cancellations and rebooking have overtaken new
business, travel advisors and suppliers can hold onto hope that when the crisis
subsides, cabin fever may spur a strong recovery to the industry.
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Just five days ago, bookings to the Americas, the Caribbean
and other destinations with few or no cases of the virus yet reported were
still coming in.
At the time, Daniela Harrison, with Avenues of the World
Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz,, said “People are definitely still traveling.”
“We have a lot of South America, specifically Ecuador and
Peru, and Australia-New Zealand itineraries this spring [on which clients are]
all traveling,” she said. “May is high season for river cruises, and so far
everyone is still planning on traveling, especially on the Danube and Rhine.”
Advisors and tour operators alike had reported a spike in
bookings to the Americas, particularly national parks, the Canadian Rockies and
Hawaii. Less anticipated hot spots were Greece and even Russia.
Jeff Roy, executive vice president of the global tour
operator Collette, hadn’t yet seen an overwhelming fear for going overseas.
Still, as the outbreak spread, there have been predictions
that the fallout for U.S. tourism will be worse than SARS and possibly as bad
In that period following the Sept. 11 attacks, Roy said,
Collette refunded up to $30 million under its self-administered flexible travel
insurance policies. “We’re still here 20 years later. Honestly, what we’re
seeing is more of a preference to defer some travel as opposed to outright
Roy and others said that even Italy, which locked down its
entire country, continues to book strong for later in the year and 2021. And
Collette, which just reintroduced Russia, was seeing a boom in sales for that
product, Roy said.
Still, the National Tour Association reported last week that
in a survey of its members, more than 55% of 104 tour operator respondents
reported cancellations as of March 6. And travel advisors continued to be
swamped with client questions and requests for cancellations and rebookings.
Geoff Millar, co-owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel and
Ultimate Hawaii Vacations in Gilbert, Ariz., said, “I think cruises and
certainly Asia and Europe are being hit more than anything else. So it’s
affecting more the people that do the FIT-type travel. Those who are doing
packages to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, I think you’re going to find that
they haven’t been hit that much at all.”
At that point, Millar said he’d only had one
coronavirus-related cancellation, even though as of last week he had close to
1,000 people traveling, about 40% to Hawaii and 60% to Mexico and the
Caribbean. Hawaii sales, in particular, have been up, he reported.
Global Rescue, the Boston-based travel evacuation and
security firm, said that in a survey released early last week that of 500 of
its members -- among the world’s most experienced
travelers -- 86% were concerned about the virus, but 89%
still planned to travel.
At the time, Global Rescue CEO Dan Richards said, “Nearly
60% of our members say they are not changing their travel plans due to
coronavirus, about 16% are taking a wait-and-see approach, 8% are postponing
and 4% have canceled trips.”
Advisors, however, said many clients were looking at what
they consider safer alternatives.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of cancellations and postponed
trips,” Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, had said at about
the same point last week. “But there is a spiked interest in close-to-home
travel. People still want to go on vacation, they’re just opting to travel via
AAA Travel had been planning to try to capitalize on that
trend, with senior vice president Paula Twidale issuing a statement that said in
part, “Adjusting marketing plans to support travel closer to home with
destinations in the U.S. and Canada, including national parks and Alaska, is a
Meanwhile, tour operators were still reporting that demand
for foreign travel was still strong for later in the year and in 2021.
“We are noticing that guests seem to be less nervous about
committing to travel farther out,” Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations
and Luxury Gold, had said. And regardless, 2021 bookings prompt him to see
light at the end of the tunnel. “We released our 2021 Preview Collection
earlier than ever before ... because of the large volume of demand from our
guests, offering them the opportunity to get the best prices and travel with
peace of mind.”
Insight Vacations said South America, especially Peru, is one of their top-trending destinations. Pictured, Machu Picchu. Photo Credit: Daniel Arranz/Shutterstock
Insight said its top-trending destinations were, in order of
popularity, national parks in the U.S. and Canada; South America, particularly
Peru; Hawaii; the U.K. and Ireland; Spain and Portugal; and the eastern
Mediterranean, including Greece and Croatia.
Likewise, Trafalgar president Melissa DaSilva had said the
company continued to get new bookings in addition to requests to reschedule.
Since Feb. 18, she said, 57% of those bookings were to Europe, both for 2020
and 2021 travel. Of those, Ireland and Great Britain made up roughly half. And
32% of the new bookings, she said, were for North America trips, primarily to
Brownell Travel affiliate Marion McDonald estimated that 30%
to 40% of her clients had canceled, but she added that, as recently as last
week, many were still traveling.
“The spring breakers, they’re going,” she had said.
Like others, McDonald said the Caribbean, Mexico and the
Canadian Rockies were still showing life.
And she was rooting for one Caribbean island in particular. “I’m
really hoping that this will be the boost Puerto Rico needs,” McDonald said, “because
not only is it Caribbean, it is also still a bargain somewhat because they’re
still rebuilding. And no passport required.”
Monica Iannacone, owner of Weekend Navigators in Tampa, had
said she’d had requests for travel in the U.S. but that most travelers were
inquiring about all-inclusive travel in the Caribbean.
“We’re finding that those who want to travel and get away in
the Caribbean are booking now to lock in the rates for later this year and next
year,” she said.
Just a week ago, Angel Wilson, travel advisor and owner of Dream
Journeys in Indianapolis, which specializes in Hawaii and the Caribbean, said
most of her clients “are hanging in there.”
She, on the other hand, has been personally affected by the
crisis. Her mother and daughter were supposed to join her on a Princess Cruises
sailing to Japan for spring break, but the cruise was canceled. She searched
for other options, but none fit her spring break dates.
So she and her family had plans to instead flying to Hawaii.
She said she still plans to cruise to Japan as soon as she can.
What a difference a week makes.
Jamie Biesiada and Nancy Trejos contributed to this report.
This report was updated Monday morning as Covid-19's effect on the travel industry progressed.