Having spent a few days at the recent Virtuoso Travel Week, a hybrid event that took place at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for those who attended the conference in person, the optimism for travel’s return was palpable, and travelers, your clients, are ready to start exploring the world again.
“The return might not have been as robust as we had all hoped thanks to restrictions and variants,” said Misty Belles, v.p., global public relations for Virtuoso, during the Virtuoso Travel Week press conference, “but when you consider where we were a year ago there is absolutely progress and forward momentum.”
That said, noted Belles, there’s “no denying that the travel industry has suffered over the last 18 moths.” According to WTTC, travel and tourism suffered a loss of $4.5 trillion globally and 62 million jobs within the industry have been lost. “Those are numbers that are difficult to fathom,” said Belles.
But in data collected by Virtuoso, everything is tracking up, and consumer confidence is high. As we all know, 2019 was a high watermark for travel and when Virtuoso looked at their bookings from January to June 2021 and compared it to those same months in 2019, bookings grew month over month in 2021. For example, in January Virtuoso was down by about 80 percent and by June, that gap had closed and they were down by only 45 percent. “The question now,” said Belles, “is the impact of the Delta variant.”
Last year, as noted in the Virtuoso data, advisors processed refund after refund. But “thankfully,” said Belles, “that has stabilized,” with sales currently taking up the majority of an advisor’s time.
In terms of travel by sector, when you compare 2021 to 2020, “hotels are the big winners,” said Belles, as they are up 133 percent.
Virtuoso also took the time to poll its agencies, advisors and partners—half said they are confident now or will be by the end of the year; and about 40 percent said they would be confident into 2022. Compared to January 2021 data—when Virtuoso conducted the same poll (the new poll was conducted in July 2021)—that confidence level is on the upswing.
Also noted in the data is that length of stay at hotels has increased and the majority of business currently is new bookings with full revenue instead of rebookings. “Indicators,” said Belles, “are that travel is making a comeback.”
In terms of what your clients want, there’s also a return to city stays—bookings for city hotels has increased 233 percent since January 2021 and 64 percent of Virtuoso travelers say they have plans to visit a city hotel in the coming months. Adventure travel is also having a resurgence. Additionally, Virtuoso travelers are most comfortable with countries that require proof of vaccinations and they are concerned over the changes in service levels, especially at luxury hotels, with staffing continuing to be a challenge. During the summer months, top international destinations have been Italy, France, Mexico and Greece, while domestically, California, Hawaii, Mexico and Florida have been the most popular.
Just last month, Virtuoso surveyed their travelers again—when the Delta variant was very much top of mind—to gauge fall and festive travel, and 45 percent said they would travel now or within the next three months and 39 percent pointed to six to 12 months before they would travel again.
“Travelers now have a higher comfort level with the uncertainty of traveling during a pandemic,” said Belles, with 26 percent noting that they are “comfortable planning now even if it means changes later”—in 2020, that was at 16 precent.
And when it comes to sustainable or regenerative tourism, 82 percent of those polled say that the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future. “People want to travel with purpose,” said Belles. Seventy-eight percent say it’s important to choose a company that has a strong sustainability policy and 70 percent agree that traveling sustainably enhances the vacation experience.