Our last blog article, (my last blog article) was written in July 2020. This is an update and perspective that picks up where that blog article left off. There is a lot to talk about.
It’s now February, 2021 and there seems to be light at the end of tunnel, but there are still significant challenges to overcome for people to begin traveling again and to actually enjoy traveling again. I get asked by people all the time about when to start traveling, where to go and how much to pay. Normally an easy question for me to answer. When you layer a worldwide pandemic on top of that discussion, the answers get murky and not simple to answer. Our company has been hibernating since May of 2020 trying to pick the right time to promote our travel package products to existing and new customers. As we begin that process of waking up from a nightmarish deep sleep, let me share some facts and thoughts regarding any potential 2021 travel recovery.
Here are a few of my updated thoughts / recommendations for travel:
- Book your longer travel plans to the Northeast in 2021-22 – Quarantine restrictions on visitors still exist and those quarantine restrictions still exist for many who return home. Many fly into Boston or New York City. If one truly follows the restrictions, it’s hard to avoid a quarantine. Many suppliers have lost good employees and some have decided to close down for 2020 and beyond. The risks to themselves and to their finances does not warrant opening. It’s going to take a little time to get the full quality of tourism in the Northeast and everywhere for that matter back up and running. When I first wrote this article, I said book 2021. That is true, but mid 2021 seems like a better option. Consider getting your feet wet with short getaways and such to be sure a seven-day vacation would be worth it to you with all the protocols, restrictions and such. Things should improve as vaccinations continue to roll out.
- Don’t expect massive discounts from small hoteliers or other suppliers – I will explain “Risk Tolerance” below, but the demand for travel is there. People want to get traveling again. When it is safe, the rebound for travel is going to happen fast and you will see prices spike accordingly. Airlines do have some great deals right now but it depends. Airlines have cut capacity, so there are less seats. People I talk to have told me that the flights they traveled were “packed”. Make no mistake, airlines will take every last penny from you that they can. When they recover, they will get back to being the blood thirsty capitalists they have always been putting shareholders before the customers. Airlines will have to lower their prices to get people on board in the short term, so that should bode well but don’t expect the same from a good portion of the hotel industry. Many hotels will be incurring higher costs to adhere to heath standards. Many will be operating at lower capacities and some are seasonal, especially along the coastline. They can’t afford to offer steep discounts in the long run and cannot afford to discount their peak season rates if they want to survive. Restaurants can’t either. City Tours at 50% capacity? Do the math. There are deals to be had but they are based on when suppliers need your business the most. Trying to beat them up on price during peak seasons when most want to travel to a particular destination is not a good strategy.
- Travel Risk Tolerance, (my new coined phrase) – As I mentioned above, risk tolerance is the new term I use to explain to folks about travel and pricing. Look, everyone wants to get back to traveling. It all depends upon how much risk you are willing to take with respect to your health and your hard earned money. How much of your money do you want to risk to get a cheap hotel during the month of April, knowing that you need a negative Covid test in both directions, wear masks everywhere you go or everything you do plus have many included services not available to you at hotels and such. Add the stress of airline travel, people not wanting to wear a mask therefore getting into verbal battles with airline and airport employees just doing their job by enforcing the rules and so much more. If you don’t care about any of that, you have a high travel risk tolerance. If you do worry about your health, the stresses of travel and the quality of your experience, your risk tolerance skews lower and lower depending on many factors. Those are the questions we ask before taking a booking. What consumers don’t realize is that when travel companies take a booking, there are costs involved. The time is takes to make and confirm all components, produce travel documents and the credit card fees from merchant banks are all costs that are incurred. When one cancels or rebooks, all those costs go up again and in some cases, those merchant banks hit us again for refunding money. Traveling has come down to risk tolerance and travel companies need to be transparent and open with customers about what they can expect so that the proper expectation level is set.
- We all need to do our part to help industries recover – Americans can do a lot by booking domestic travel to help get US hotels, tour operators, travel agents, car rental companies, restaurants and activities back on their feet. Look, Americans are pretty demanding when it comes to quality. If we want that quality to continue, we need to travel, dine and explore destinations. We can support all of this by being patient and paying a fair price for services. All of these businesses employ millions of people and they need to see a recovery to rehire. Patience will also pay dividends as the industry and the destination’s suppliers either recover or start fresh. There are issues with suppliers who did not survive this business killing pandemic. It will take time for those activities, transportation providers, restaurants to be replaced as visitation and demand increase.
- Work with travel agents and tour operators – They provide a wealth of knowledge and more importantly, they offer service. With all of the unknowns out there, let your local travel agent or a tour operator manage and navigate everything for you. Do you really want to call three hotels, airlines, rental car, restaurants, local tours to change or cancel your plans in case of future issues? The hold times are lots of fun too! If you value your time and money, use specialists who can weed through all the garbage that is out there on the internet plus all the restrictions that are in place. In almost all cases, it does not cost you more. Here is another reason: Tour Operators, Travel Planners and Travel Agents have all been left behind by both the Federal and most state governments. Politicians who make up financial policy with regards to grant and funding programs somehow came up with the conclusion that we are not hard hit by this pandemic. We were overlooked because they do not understand what we do and how we do it. Most in our industry are down 75% or more from 2019, yet businesses that are down 25% receive funding no questions asked. PLEASE support your local travel experts. Travel agents do the work for you and get a commission. If a hotel room is $200, you pay $200. The travel agent receives $20 from the hotel. If you have issues, they step in and advocate for you when you travel. Your $200 helps more businesses recover.
- Spend money on private touring or small guided tours – Cut back a little on your hotel costs, invest the money in private touring. If you travel with people you trust and you have 4-6-8-10 people, the value of private touring only gets better. Private touring with 2 people was always a great product…now it’s a great value. In many cases, private touring is done for a set price up to “x” amount of people. So if a private tour is $300 and you have 6 people, your cost is $50 per person. In many cases city bus tours are $30-$40 per person anyway. Walking tours are typically lesser in price then private driving tours, but depending on the destination, there are some great values out there.
With respect to Risk Travel Tolerance above, my last big suggestion is to take baby steps! Do a weekend in Portland, Maine or Kennebunkport, Maine. Head up to Acadia National Park and stay in Bar Harbor on a three-night adventure. Get out on the water in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Get all patriotic for a few days in Boston and head up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Walk the many mansions and gardens in the Berkshires of Western, MA. Explore Vermont’s plethora of outdoor activities. Head to Upstate New York and taste the many fine wines of the Finger Lakes Region or tour Castle’s along the Hudson River. The Northeast is a four-season destination that can offer many outdoor discoveries to keep you safe during these challenging times. Test out your tolerance. If you travel and you think it was just OK because of restrictions and such, maybe you should wait a little longer before booking that 10-night vacation to places you have always wanted to visit? Talk to a tour operator or travel agent and come up with the best path forward to traveling again.
About the writer: Steven Grasso has over 30 years experience developing travel programs for destinations throughout the USA and Canada. Steven believes that knowing how to get there and how to connect the dots while traveling is an important aspect of travel planning. He also believes that the best value in travel is when you let locals do the touring and/or driving while the traveler can soak in all the sites and sounds of a destination and utilizing a 3rd party that specializes in particular destinations can help weed through bad, good and great information.