Maybe you’ve already taken an international vacation this summer. But if you’re on the fence about traveling overseas or still in the planning stages, we have some tips and ideas for you. We checked in with Dan Mahar for his outlook on global travel in his role as CEO of Tauck, the Wilton tour operator which is approaching a century in business. Tauck emphasizes experiences in its tour destinations, including itineraries pegged to themes developed in the documentaries of Ken Burns.
How is travel demand trending for this year and next?
Right now for 2021, anything that opens sells out, and that is true we hear across our industry.
The way I look at it for our customers, nothing was canceled — it’s a dream deferred. If you wanted a safari, you are going back to a safari. If you wanted Italy, you are going back to Italy. If you wanted Egypt and the Middle East — honestly that’s probably one of the biggest, in-demand places — you’re going back there. People had taken a pause, but they’re resuming the same interests to what they had before.
The demand is very, very strong. You’re going to have to book early for 2022 to get your desired departure date. September’s the most popular month for travel pretty much everywhere in the world. May and June would be second — those seasons are going to be selling faster than ever, because the pent-up demand is very strong for experiences.
What about pricing volatility?
You’re going to see demand exceed supply in most top leisure destinations, as things open in 2021 and certainly in 2022. You read that business travel may be suppressed, but leisure travel is doing very well now and it’s just going to explode going into the later half of 2021 and into 2022. And so that means destinations that draw primarily leisure, or hotel properties that draw leisure, are going to see prices where they were in 2019 or higher. Airlines still have 20 percent of their capacity parked but they are managing their [passenger] yields very well, so there aren’t going to be big air deals.
What’s been the impact on destinations?
You’ve got hundreds of millions of people who have been put out of work in developing markets all around the world [and] they were behind on their vaccine rollout in a lot of developing markets. On a big-picture scale, I think there’s going to be unrest in different parts of the world. I think people will avoid those spots — I don’t think it’s going to impact the narrative on travel, people will just avoid those spots and go to other places.
Europe is the biggest outbound market [from] the U.S., by far, and you are seeing they are racing to open up because they are balancing the economic and health considerations. Their vaccines are accelerating and they want to bring the economic benefit back because it’s very important to their economy, on a much greater percentage of their GDP in Europe than in the U.S.
Is a “vaccine passport” advisable?
It’s changing so fast — the mask change [in May] was the pivotal point. There were a lot of questions about vaccines, then it was about masks. And now that obviously is going away, and so the nature of it is changing so very quickly. Every 30 days, it is going to feel dramatically different. If you think about what happened from early February to the end of March, in terms of the vaccine rollout here in the U.S., huge difference, right? Normalization is happening in markets where they have had high vaccination rollouts.Vendors globally have really responded. In terms of cleanliness, everyone is being very conscientious about that, and that will stay.
Vaccines are going to be required for many destinations. Greece is requiring it, Iceland is requiring it, Costa Rica, Ecuador. If you’re not vaccinated, you will have to go through different quarantine procedures. The way I look at it, proof of vaccine is sort of like E-ZPass — the vaccine will allow you to enter and exit more quickly, which for tourism is the way it has to be. And there’s a precedent — I went to Africa two summers ago, and everyone had to show their vaccine cards for the different shots you had to take to get into a country.
How about travel insurance?
Among experienced travelers, a very high percentage already got travel insurance — it’s still the same high rate. People want to have it because they understand the benefit if there is any disruption. They know they have support for medical care or hotel nights or meals or if something changes. It provides peace of mind that they are going to be covered. Different policies do different things — some of the insurance providers have removed COVID from the list of covered [risks], because they feel that it’s now a known risk. We provide a very customer-friendly insurance plan, and a very high percentage of clients purchase it.