Travel Weekly readers poll: Cancellations piling up due to coronavirus

Travel Weekly readers poll: Cancellations piling up due to coronavirus
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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% for China.

“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 rebooking.”

Exacerbating the problem is travelers’ fear of being stuck somewhere.

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!”


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