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As the headline notes, there’s certainly pent-up demand for travel in 2021. That’s not news to you, of course, but seeing statistics like that showcase how important it is to continue to engage with clients, because when travelers do begin to ease back into traveling, and more borders begin to reopen, you’ll want to be the first phone call they make. In fact, we saw that pent-up demand this past holiday week, with U.S. air travel hitting its highest level since mid-March—this, in spite of the CDC’s recommendations against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

In a session hosted by Travel Leaders Group during this week’s USTOA Virtual Annual Conference & Marketplace, the Travel Leaders’ v.p. of marketing, Brian Hegarty, noted that based on several surveys that have been conducted in the past few months, it’s obvious people miss traveling. In fact, in one October 2020 report, the American Express Trendex Report, 50 percent of consumers they spoke to said that not being able to travel “makes them anxious and stressed,” with 80 percent saying that “travel is one of the top activities they miss the most.”

And that stat from the headline comes from the Travel Leaders Consumer Survey, which was conducted this past September. That same survey notes that 54 percent of those surveyed are “dreaming of travel,” while 22 percent are “planning their next vacation,” and 23 percent “have already booked their next vacation.”

So, with this rebound in travel that’s almost palpable—whether in summer 2021 or fall 2021—what role do travel advisors play in the road to tourism recovery? The panel discussion during the Travel Leaders session aimed to answer this question, because, as has been noted from the start of this crisis, the value of the travel advisor in the eyes of the consumer has grown exponentially.

The panelists—Angela Hughes of Trips & Ships Luxury Travel; Tom Mieczynski of Donovan Travel; and Allegra Lynch of Authentic Vacations—agreed that the travel advisors’ role today is more important than ever, with Lynch noting that “there’s a lot more value in the industry because of COVID.” Hughes pointed out that a travel advisor’s knowledge helps clients “decide what’s appropriate for them.”

The panelists agreed that it’s been important and essential to continue to engage your clients throughout the crisis, and to continue to engage with tourism boards in order to be up-to-date with the latest border reopenings, and specific health and safety protocols. “Tourism boards that are reaching out to me one on one,” said Hughes, those are the ones she’s paying the most attention to. In fact, she said that pre-COVID, she had never visited nor even sold Tanzania, but that the tourism board reached out, and in the last month has visited the country and will be selling it.

Lynch also mentioned that it’s important for tourism boards to connect with advisors and let them know that they are welcoming U.S. visitors. “It’s a huge lost opportunity,” she said, “to pause marketing. You are really losing the opportunity, losing potential clients.”

Of course, as Mieczynski mentions, you can’t be an expert on all the destinations, so, as Hughes added, you “need to narrow it down to certain destinations that are going to be profitable right now.”

Lynch gave a great example: They had a family booked on a trip to Australia, but with borders not reopening to U.S. travelers, they switched the affluent family to a last-minute trip to Kenya. “People are seeking new places that they wouldn’t have traveled to before,” she pointed out. And she mentioned that the luxury space “hasn’t disappeared.”

Hughes concurred, saying that the luxury travel segment will be the first one back, and “there’s lots of indication that if you have the right destination, you can definitely sell.”

And Mieczynski added that getting that first-hand experience in order to be able to report back to their clients in real-time is essential to furthering the role of advisors. There’s nothing quite like the “ability to visit a destination.”

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