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WHAT LIES AHEAD: What will travel look like on Oct. 14, 2021

One way or another travel is going to get a shot in the arm next year: from an explosion of pent-up demand for holidays to the introduction of a vaccine to combat the effects of COVID-19. These are just some of the predictions of a panel of industry experts at the recent Seatrade Virtual 2020 cruise conference who were asked to dust off their crystal balls and predict what the world of travel will be like in exactly one year.

We’ll get to their future forecasts for the cruise industry in an upcoming article, but let’s start off with the group’s general assessment of the post-pandemic world of travel as they believe it will be in October 2021.

Panelists included Rick Sasso, Chairman, MSC Cruises USA; Jay Schneider, SVP Digital, Royal Caribbean Group; and Alex Sharpe, President and CEO, Signature Travel Network. Here are their thoughts:

What will leisure travel look like (one year from now)?

Schneider – The first and probably most important thing for leisure travel is that (people are) going to take a vacation day for the first time in maybe two years.

We hope to see expanded vaccine distribution and test capacity and better treatments, but I don’t think we’ll be out of the woods by October. But those three factors alone will take us to the point where consumers will feel comfortable with domestic air travel. You’ll see people shift from a drive to a VRBO (vacation rental by owner), to fly to a destination, to a cruise. I think consumer confidence will rise over the summer into next October, so I’m pretty hopeful about the growth of travel in 2021; even if it starts out slow, I think we’ll have built into a pretty healthy resumption of travel (by October).

Sasso – I believe that we will be safer due to all the technology and science that is developing and at the end of the day all these things (like masks an social distancing) will become a habit that will help travel to come back to normal.

There is going to be a pent-up demand, there is no doubt that people want to holiday. And the cruise industry – and our friends at the airlines and hotels and tours – are gearing up for that already, not by next October, but by the end of next month.

By next year we will certainly be adapted, the science will allow us to do a better job… and (there is) pent-up demand – so, I’m very optimistic.

What will consumer expectations be?

Sharpe – Do you remember when you were in grade school and on the very last day of school the doors swung open and you ran out and you just threw your papers up, you were so excited for summer? That’s how I think it’s going to look pretty quickly (when travel is able to resume).

At the same time, we’re so much more cognizant of the health and safety of ourselves and the people around us. And moving forward, that will be a concern, and something travel advisors will have to translate to every single customer on every single package – what’s going on the ships, and locations around the world… And I think people will be ready to travel, and to do it with their masks, or whatever it takes to do it safely, and they will just trek along, because we’ve just been cooped up way too long.

Will having a vaccine be a prerequisite for travellers?

Schneider – I don’t think it will be a requirement. I think there will be a period where there will be folks with a vaccine, folks without a vaccine and testing will play a large part. I do believe that we will have vaccine that will get into distribution later this year or early next year, but that distribution curve is going to take all of 2021. I believe we’re going to have a period that is a combination of vaccines and testing, and that transitions into a different world into 2022 and beyond.

Sasso – Therapeutics will play a big role as well. People will know how to take care of themselves, even if they contract the virus… The vaccine will save lives, but it won’t change the dynamic. Testing will (still) be more critical.

Sharpe – It’s important long-term to have a vaccine that people are comfortable with that’s distributed broadly. But as testing continues to get better, quicker, and more cost-effective, I think we have a wonderful stopgap that will take us into 2022 before requiring a vaccine would be prudent.

What will the travel retail distribution channel look like?

Sharpe – We’re going to have to adapt. Sadly, I think it will be a smaller community – there will be fewer agencies and fewer advisors a year from now, but then I think the opportunity will grow back rather quickly.

What I’ve seen is tremendous investment in training and technology, driving efficiencies and relevancy through this past seven months because they’ve had the time, for the first time in a long time, to really dig in.

And I keep telling our advisors, when they come out of this they will never be in greater demand. Consumers absolutely will need an advisor to navigate this crazy new world, and suppliers will need us to be their third-party advocates. And there will be fewer advisors out there, so I believe revenue for an advisor will be stronger in the coming months and years than it has ever been.

That’s just what happens during times like this: people get a little leaner and meaner, and they come out stronger.

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

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