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“We think leisure travel will return first, and that travelers will go big,” said J.D. O’Hara, CEO of Internova Travel Group, in his opening address during a Feb. 23 call with the media. “There’s no question that people are eager to get back out there.”
Internova — which rebranded from Travel Leaders Group last year — comprises 65,000 travel advisors (including 50,000 advisors in the U.S.) across multiple brands in the luxury leisure, premium corporate and entertainment segments.
Indeed, results from recent research — along with emerging trends from booking data — are giving O’Hara and his executive team reason to feel optimistic about the future of the travel advisor sector.
A recent survey by the company found that 99% of U.S. and Canadian travelers are eager to venture out again; that 70% plan to vacation in 2021; and that 60% do not mind a negative PCR test as a requirement for travel.
Pent-up demand means that the current “traveler’s market” will not last long, making now the time to take advantage of high-value offers and flexible policies from suppliers, O’Hara said. And many clients are interested in doing just that, according to Amadeus research, which found that half of travelers are interested in taking a trip of 14 days or more.
Our view is that people will travel if and when they can. We’re not promoting travel, necessarily, but we are here for our clients if they want to travel in the safest and most informed way.
“There’s no better time than now to book future travel,” O’Hara said. “We do anticipate prices to creep up for the rest of the year.”
The company has partnered with several groups that will help advisors provide safety measures and assurance to clients traveling now, such as ExLog Global, CommonPass and Sharecare Health Security Verified with Forbes Travel Guide.
“Our view is that people will travel if and when they can,” he said. “We’re not promoting travel, necessarily, but we are here for our clients if they want to travel in the safest and most informed way.”
Although his outlook is optimistic, O’Hara hopes to see more COVID-19 testing and vaccines, rather than quarantines.
And he also looks forward to consistent global standards to avoid confusion; strategic marketing partnerships; continued service excellence; and for the industry to recognize the increased importance of the travel advisor.
Fellow Internova executives shared their outlook on specific travel niches, and many echoed O’Hara’s concerns and overall optimism. Here’s what they said.
Air Travel: Peter Vlitas, Senior Vice President of Airline Relations"We’re an industry in crisis,” Vlitas said. “In 2020, $118 billion of what can be tracked was lost. The world is more closed than ever before, and it’s the hardest time to fly anywhere.”
Vlitas considers the lack of coordination by governments and industry groups a major problem and hopes to see the creation of one global standard for electronic health verifications.
According to Vlitas, the U.S. government needs a comprehensive multistep plan. He also considers the lack of a federal contact-tracing program problematic.
We don’t want to import or export the virus, but we’re at the stage where we have enough people vaccinated for business travel.
“We don’t want to import or export the virus, but we’re at the stage where we have enough people vaccinated for business travel,” he said.
Indeed, data shows that flight capacity for travel in North America is set to increase in the summer of 2021, reflecting a belief that vaccinated Americans — many of whom are seniors — will want to travel during that period.
Vlitas recommends that travel advisors and their clients also check the validity of their passports.
"Renew your passport,” he said. “As we come out of this and into the recovery period, we don’t want anyone saying, ‘My passport has expired.’”
Cruise: Annie Scrivanich, Senior Vice President of Cruise SpecialistsAll major cruise lines have postponed sailings to the late second quarter or third quarter of 2021, but Scrivanich sees this as positive news — cruise lines will have time to perfect new conditions for sailings, and advisors have increased opportunities for selling.
For one, this is the first year that advisors have two years’ worth of world cruises to sell, and these expensive, bucket-list sailings are booking at a high pace. One-third of the 2023 world cruises are already sold out, and start at about $50,000 per person, she said.
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She credits this to tremendous pent-up demand, with cruisers now selecting longer voyages, one-off itineraries and better room categories.
“Discretion income is still holding up strong,” she said of Internova’s cruise clients.
Although world cruises are the hottest trend, European ocean and river cruises and hosted voyages are seeing a lot of momentum, too. In particular, voyages hosted by advisors give clients an added level of security.
"Consumers are searching for reputable travel agents,” she said. “They want guidance and support before, during and after their cruise vacation. They want a clear understanding of protocols.”
They want guidance and support before, during and after their cruise vacation.
Looking forward, guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is important, as it’s still in flux, she said. Testing, vaccines and onboard protocols are also extremely important.
Scrivanich recommends that advisors tell clients to plan and book early.
"We are in a situation where there is high demand and low availability,” she said. “Consumers should work with a travel advisor to have that additional level of assurance and comfort, especially now. They should definitely purchase travel insurance, so they are well cared for. We are very optimistic about what our guests’ cruise experiences will be.”
Hotels: Faisal Sublaban, Senior Vice President of Hotel Relations“It is no secret that the hotel segment has been decimated in the last year, but we are seeing green shoots,” Sublaban said.
Consumers are booking at the last minute more than ever; 80% of the revenue booked over the past four weeks has been for travel within 30 days, he said. Consumers are also planning spring break and summer travel already, especially in Florida, Hawaii, California, Texas and Georgia. Cancun and Los Cabos have also been top destinations throughout the pandemic.
With occupancy restrictions and the need to plan ahead, domestic travel and travel to high-demand areas, such as beaches, will continue to be popular, he said.
When we look at a lot of our partners in Cancun and Los Cabos, they are already sold out for spring break and Easter.
“When we look at a lot of our partners in Cancun and Los Cabos, they are already sold out for spring break and Easter,” Sublaban said.
All-inclusive hotels are also popular, especially because in-person dining in restaurants is in flux in many destinations.
Booking trips in villas and vacation homes is another emerging trend that Sublaban believes has staying power.
"Some [clients] are moving for a short period of time because kids can go to school remotely, and parents can work remotely,” he said.
He is seeing extended stays in Aspen and Vail, Colo., for ski lovers and rentals in Florida, Southern California and Mexico for beachgoers.
He also applauded the hotel industry for doing an incredible job implementing safety protocols to protect both travelers and employees. But because these standards can vary from property to property — and continue to change as best practices evolve — Internova felt the aforementioned partnership with Sharecare Health Security Verified with Forbes Travel Guide was especially important.
“[Sharecare Verified] gives a seal of approval and standardization, which requires hotels to engage and constantly update their standards as they change,” he said.
Sublaban said that road trips and staycations will also remain popular, since there will be some clients who want to start easing back into travel slowly.
"There’s a different bucket for different folks,” he said. “Everyone has a different level of comfort moving forward.”
The DetailsInternova Travel Group www.internova.com