Why 2021 Will Be Fantastic for The Travel Industry
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

Welcome to 2021! A year brimming with hope for the travel industry. There is a lot of evidence that this will be a banner year for travel. I have seen lots of reports and statistics that back this up. In addition, I attended a presentation in December by Colette Baruth, SVP Global Commerce & Distribution for AMResorts who shared so other statistics I have incorporated here.

Here are my 5 reasons I think 2021 is going to be fantastic for the travel industry:

  1. Desire for travel is growing and deepening
  2. More destinations are opening
  3. Financial outlook for many travelers is very positive
  4. Traveler expectations will be high when they travel again
  5. Consumers want to work with a travel pro

Desire for travel is growing and deepening. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of trips were canceled or postponed in 2020. This left a lot of people craving travel in a way they never have before in their lifetimes. There are numerous reports and surveys that show that people who travel regularly are anxious to do so, and those who haven’t been regular travelers feel the itch in a way they haven’t in the past. All of this is good news for travel agents!

As expected, travel has restarted in waves. More adventurous travelers and “early adopters” were the first ones to get on a plane and travel. If you have these clients you know it is a great benefit to your bottom line now, rather than waiting on travel that happens in 2022 or 2023. One way to identify these clients (and potential clients) is to ask if they will get the COVID vaccine as soon as it is available. If the answer is yes, those are your adventurous travelers that you can be serving for travel in the near future.

Sandy’s Tip: Don’t assume people are or are not willing to travel now. If you aren’t in touch with them they won’t know you are available to help and you can lose that opportunity.

More destinations are opening. While cruising hasn’t yet resumed and many of us are anxious for that to happen, there are more and more destinations opening to US travelers. Each week brings news of changes. One of the things that I have seen many people speculate about is that some countries or travel types may require travelers to have proof they’ve had the COVID vaccine. Even before the vaccine is widely distributed, destinations are anxious to have your clients visit.

That does not mean you or your clients should expect deals. Now is not the time for price wars and deep discounts. Resorts are already trying to stay afloat with significantly reduced capacity; they can’t add deep discounts to the mix.

Sandy’s Tip: Make sure you make your clients aware that they shouldn’t be waiting on deals. We fully anticipate that later this year we will see availability issues even for travel in 2022. Capacity is expected to be reduced for quite a while and if clients want to take a trip, they need to lock it in NOW.

The financial outlook for many travelers is very positive. Did you know that Black Friday & Cyber Monday spending hit all-time highs in 2020? Black Friday sales were up 22% and Cyber Monday were up 19.77%. This is good news for travel because it means that people are comfortable spending money. Many of them didn’t use their vacation budget in 2020 and have that money to put toward a trip. Add to that the vacation payouts many people are receiving because companies are paying employees for unused vacation in 2020 to get that liability off their books. (Overall, people used 30% less vacation days in 2020 than in 2019.) This means you have consumers with cash now and PTO later. Another great source of funds for many people is in their homes. Real estate prices are at the highest point in history and many people have significant equity they are tapping into for home improvement projects and now that those are finished, they are looking to take trips of a lifetime.

Sandy’s Tip: Don’t wait on clients to reach out to you because they are ready to book! Make sure you are in touch with them now because they might decide to book without you if you haven’t been in touch. A sudden influx of cash can be irresistible to people and they can just book online instead if you aren’t already in conversation with them.

Traveler expectations will be high when they travel again. Because travelers have gone so long without the pleasure of travel, they will have high expectations when they venture out again. They are expected to choose higher room categories and service levels than in the past, meaning they are more likely to go for a suite or butler service. Entry-level rooms and cabins will not be sufficient for most travelers. They will also be looking for a strong connection to place and experiences than they have in the past. Sure, many are going to want to “fly and flop” on the beach, but more will be looking for meaningful connections to the places they travel and the people who live there. They are also going to be more likely to travel with friends and family. Even families who never held family reunions are likely to start doing so in 2021 and beyond.

Sandy’s Tip: When working with a client always offer them a better experience through a higher category. Make sure they understand why that will make the trip better. And ask them WHY they are interested in a destination so you understand how to structure their trip and what additional components to add so it is more meaningful to them.

Consumers want to work with a travel pro. I know spring 2020 seems like a long time ago, but remember all those people who were posting angry messages about online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Booking.com, and Costco Travel? They haven’t forgotten that, but some have gone back to those OTAs because they don’t know any other option. That’s a complete failure on our part. As an industry, travel agents have done a terrible job promoting their value and what they offer. Even if people end up selling their homes themselves, they know there are real estate agents out there to help them. But that’s not true for travel agents. You have to make yourself known to your target market and be very clear about what you can do for them. That responsibility is completely on your shoulders.

Sandy’s Tip: It’s not enough to say, “I’m a travel agent”. Make sure your website and social media marketing is focused on what you do for clients and how it benefits them. Don’t just focused on the “product” side of the business. Remember, you are selling yourself and your expertise, not acting as a middleman for a travel product.

Bottom line: There is lots of evidence of the value 2021 holds for travel agents. I can’t wait to see how the year unfolds and celebrate the return to active travel!