As a TA, my small company canceled 150+ trips last year - more than 200 flights and 400+ hotels. As we look forward to traveling in 2021 and beyond, our keyword to clients is FLEXIBILITY. For every rule, restriction, regulation, and thus recommendation we've made - in multiple countries - it seems the parameters change a week later! They change so rapidly that trips that looked viable last week are no longer possible.
We book primarily Europe so it's been a LONG 12 MONTHS! I am in lockdown in the NL and not traveling - and that's by my choice. In my early 60's with no vaccination in sight (thank you Dutch gov't), we're not sure when we will feel comfortable to travel again. My traveling now is limited to solo-cycling through the Dutch countryside.
But people do want to travel. Due to the worldwide travel restrictions, our travelers are primarily focused on continental USA, Hawaii, Caribbean, and Mexico. Of course, that's evolving also as islands & countries open and close, almost randomly. As we're responsible for these folks, trip planning has taken on many new perspectives. What steps do the airline, hotel, and transportation functions take to protect our clients? Will the resort, safari, tour company, local DMC help us coordinate a test so US citizens traveling internationally can get back into the USA? And if everything goes to XXXX, what is the process to get folks home. (For us, South America and cruise ship recoveries were the worst experiences).
DAILY we receive 40-50 emails from hotels, DMC's, chamber of commerce, etc touting the safety procedures in place and their processes to protect (and attract) our travelers. In addition, I am registered in 20+ countries through the STEP program, so we're getting those (repetitive) statements. We also receive, almost DAILY, data from ASTA, IATA, CLIA, and other groups updating us on the constantly evolving travel environment, new COVID #'s, and new/updated travel restrictions. And depending on how you interpret all this data, (1) it's safe to travel, (2) you can travel with caution, or (3) what the heck are you thinking about traveling now!
Our responsibility is to provide information and options consistent with all the rules, regulations, and restrictions. Thus, we're not even looking at scheduling summer travel in Europe. And trust me, people WANT to go. But after canceling 100+ trips - which we found is far more time-consuming than building a trip - it's just not viable to book Europe for Summer 2021. We do have European trips starting in late September and well into 2022 and 2023 - ALL WITH REFUNDABLE, nonbinding bookings.
Travel will be different. Although many of the larger DMC's, hotels, airlines, etc. have (so far) made it through the pandemic, as we book 2022 and beyond trips, we find that their "network of support vendors" has been totally decimated. These small, mainly family-run companies, are no more. For example, a great partner in Italy, after 15 years of business, could no longer afford the lease payments on the multiple Mercedes vehicles he used and he has closed his business.
The travel industry has been battered. Think about not getting paid & not being able to pay your employees for 12+ months. You still have the same bills and the same responsibilities. Consumers want refunds, but in many cases, the deposit money many DMC's received was paid to their smaller partner companies (like drivers and guides) to lock them in for a specific date and service... and when those companies failed, how do you pay back the original consumer? A few months ago, a very honorable German partner broke down on the phone as he explained to me why he could not provide a full-voucher for one of our clients. It was a tough conversation.
I understand the frustration from the consumer perspective and see a lot of that on many travel forums. Trust me, the travel industry is just as frustrated and overwhelmed. Looking forward to a better 2022!