The latest reader poll by Travel Weekly suggests that as the
Covid-19 coronavirus spreads around the world, travel advisors are seeing a
significant -- in some cases, devastating -- slowdown in global travel.
A full 77.2% of poll respondents reported that clients had
canceled travel due to the virus, with nearly 60% reporting cancellations to
Italy and Europe.
More than half, 52.4%, reported cancellations to other parts
of the world, while 47.1% reported cancellations for Asia bookings and 33.5%
“I haven’t seen an impact like this in the travel industry
since 9/11,” one agent wrote after taking the poll. “I’m worried about the
global economy in the next few months.”
Just over 73% of the 610 respondents polled between Feb. 28
and March 4 said that forward bookings in general had also been seeing an
impact, with nearly 50% of those reporting a slowdown in bookings. That cancellation
rate is higher than those reported for China, the epicenter of the virus, and
to Asia in general.
“Most of all spring/summer travel bookings and groups to
Europe have been canceled,” one advisor wrote. “The loss of revenue from these
bookings has been staggering.”
Although there have also been infections and deaths from the
virus in the U.S., North America is perceived by clients as being the safest
place to travel by far, according to the poll.
Nearly 80% said North America is considered less risky,
followed by South America (25.6%) and Australia and the Pacific Rim (22.5).
Therein lies one bright spot.
Some advisors who book mostly Mexico and Caribbean
destinations reported little to no impact, even some upticks in bookings.
“Although the phones have been quieter than usual during
Wave season, I am still booking some travel for this year, and a good amount
for 2021,” wrote Jo-Ann Moss, a Cruise Planners franchisee in Oregon. “Based on
my sales volume report, my sales are actually 50% higher since the first of the
year than they were last year at the same time.”
As with a prior poll taken by Travel Weekly in early
February, respondents said that clients were most hesitant to cruise (63.1%).
More than half, 59.2%, were concerned about traveling anywhere, and 55.1% were
worried about air travel.
“We’re seeing a significant drop in cruise requests, with
March being one of our busier booking months,” wrote one advisor. “We’re also
starting to have customers want to avoid crowded places like Disney World or
the surrounding area.”
The hesitation to cruise, combined with a drop in Europe
bookings, could deal a double-whammy to the European river cruise industry.
UBS, in a financial note last week, said river cruising was “being hit hard, as
[that market] tends to be an older passenger age and therefore a population
that might be more concerned about the virus.”
Many respondents reported that customers were taking a
wait-and-see approach, indicating that business could bounce back if the virus
can be brought under control in the near future.
But that could still be too late for some.
“Sales have decreased to almost nothing,” one agent wrote. “This
is hitting us very hard! We are not sure we will survive this.”
Another wrote that her calls had been “brought to a
standstill, except for cancels, changes and insurance questions.”
One agent who commented anonymously reported that bookings
were down a full 75% compared with this time last year. Another reported a
$180,000 loss in revenue in a single week. Yet another reported sales had
dropped 60%, while a fourth respondent simply wrote, “Sucks!”
Some advisors said they expected the cascade of
cancellations to continue into summer and fall travel.
“As some clients are traveling May, June, July, August and
September, they are waiting for airlines to offer cancellation penalty waivers,
and at that time they are canceling their air and following guidelines for
Exacerbating the problem is travelers’ fear of being stuck
The “majority of our concerns revolve around clients being
afraid of being stuck in quarantine or unable to travel because of flight
cancellations,” one advisor wrote.
Many agents responded that concerns about the coronavirus
were consuming most of their time.
Most said they were referring travelers to the websites of
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health
Organization for information rather than giving advice about whether to travel
somewhere. Many said they were also discussing alternative destinations and
sharing information from suppliers and tourism boards.
“I have advised my travel advisors to stay positive and
confident when speaking to concerned travelers,” one respondent wrote. “Enforce
that all travel vendors’ first priority is the traveler’s safety!”