Do you ever experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? Well, get ready to have a bad case of FOMO if you aren’t booking your 2022 and 2023 vacations now. If you aren’t, you’re missing out on some of the best prices you will see for the next year. I know you’re probably thinking I’m saying this just to boost sales. I am a Travel Advisor, after all. But, I am confident I will have sales, so that’s not really a worry for me. In fact, in the first two weeks of January, I’ve quoted nearly as much as we sold in all of 2021. And there are good reasons for it. We’ll get into that, but I don’t want to miss a chance to repeat this call to action…BOOK YOUR VACATIONS NOW. I’m telling you this because I love to travel and love helping others travel, and I’m getting concerned that many won’t be able to enjoy the vacations they want this year if they don’t take action now.
So why am I so concerned? There are a number of converging, related factors that are simply going to eat up the capacity. Those factors stem primarily from COVID’s impact the last two years and its impending demise. That’s right, it will be ending soon, or at least that’s what I’ve been reading and hearing a lot lately.
COVID’s Last Hurrah
As a Travel Advisor, I attend a lot of webinars and read a lot of industry news. Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended multiple webinars in which travel industry executives or scientists have said the same thing – COVID infection rates will likely start to improve by the end of February in the U.S. and continue to drop until it is a minor concern as the year continues. Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a former FDA Commissioner and is currently a Pfizer board member, COVID-19 advisor to multiple state governors, and serves as Chairman of Norwegian Cruise Line’s SailSafe Program. Based on the information he shared that has been echoed by others, there are a number of new therapeutics coming and new vaccines taht will help make COVID more treatable and survivable. He also said Omicron has been so contagious that a lot more people now have the antibodies. That coupled with vaccination rates (including boosters) should lead to fewer infections in coming weeks. He shared that, historically, pandemics last three to 5 years and we are entering year 3 now. Looking at South Africa, where Omicron was first detected in late November 2021, peak infections seem to have passed and Dr. Gottlieb expects we will soon see the same occur in the U.S. On Jan. 9, Dr. Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation” that data indicated infection rates in the Northeast and Florida may be hitting their peaks, but did indicate rates could still climb in other parts of the U.S. Nevertheless, he has also suggested that all U.S. regions may see better numbers by the end of February.
More Demand than Capacity
Also, remember how COVID began in 2020. There were no vaccines and a COVID diagnosis was scary, a death sentence for far too many. As of now, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 5.5 million people have died from COVID around the world. Early on, the reaction around the world was to enter lockdown and close borders. There was no travel for several months. Travel suppliers issued future travel credits (FTCs) and most need to be used by the end of 2022. While 2021 bookings were better than 2020, they still weren’t back to pre-pandemic levels considering many resorts and cruises operated at partial capacity. In particular, cruise lines kept many ships out of service and sailed anywhere from 40% to 70% occupied. As we start 2022, some of those cruise lines have had to cancel sailings again due to the high rates of infection that come with Omicron. As their crew members test positive and port destinations close, they simply don’t want to sail and give customers bad experiences or further spread infection. The result of all this is that we have people with pent up urges to travel after two years of COVID and people who have FTCs that need to be used by the end of 2022. It’s very possible that those who wait to use their FTCs simply won’t find a vacation available to use them.
Borders are Reopening
International borders have been reopening over the last few months and more continue to open. While keeping track of each country’s requirements can be difficult, working with a good Travel Advisor should help. Some countries require testing or vaccination or both. Many require registering ahead of time, submitting test results electronically, and being approved for entry. Some are doing random spot testing upon arrival. A small number may require quarantine regardless of vaccination status, and there are some with no restrictions or requirements at all. But, the overall trend is to get borders opened and keep them open.
2021 Provided a Preview of Travel’s Rebound
Last summer as more Americans became vaccinated, confidence grew that we were nearly done with COVID. Of course, that was before Delta and later Omicron presented themselves. But, during those few months of relief, people began booking vacations again. The travel industry quickly found itself grappling with a surge in demand, but limited capacity to meet it. Travelers who did travel learned to be flexible and adaptable. Many who visited Caribbean resorts found some restaurants and bars at resorts closed or service levels diminished due to reduced staffing. Cruisers found the opposite – amazing service on ships that were fully staffed, but had fewer passengers. We cruised ourself on Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady and loved the reduced capacity sailing. We never waited for anything and it was like having much of the ship to ourselves.
People traveling to Europe found they had to limit their visits to fewer countries due to the various restrictions they had to manage. We had clients land in Berlin in December only to learn their hotel was shutting down. Thankfully, they were able to move to a better hotel across the street at no additional cost. And all these travelers had to contend with pre-travel testing, pre-departure testing, and navigating all the challenges with that. We had clients travel to St. Lucia last fall and their test results didn’t meet requirements. Once we were able to help them fix that, I had to track down government officials in St. Lucia to get their entry approved hours before their flights took off. While travel should get easier in 2022, flexibility and adaptability will continue to be incredibly important. Travelers who may struggle with that may want to refocus attention on domestic vacations instead. But, even that will continue to be difficult. Before the end of last year, over 85% of the southwest Florida vacation rental capacity had been booked through the first quarter.
If travel executives and scientists like Dr. Gottlieb are correct, people will soon see infection rates improving and grow much more confident, leading to even more of that capacity getting booked up. You have a chance now to get in early and beat the rush. And remember, the longer you wait, the more expensive your vacation will likely be. As limited capacity gets tighter, there will be less incentive for travel suppliers to offer promotions and sales for 2022 and 2023 bookings.
We Already See Booking Trouble Brewing
Earlier I mentioned a family wanting to travel to Italy this coming summer. They are wanting a custom itinerary that covers nearly 3 weeks in Northern Italy. I have designed a plan for them that they love. They prefer to stay in private villas rather than hotels, so that’s where I want to focus my attention first. I need to know the dates for their villa rentals so I can plan all the other components around that. They need villas for 7 days in Tuscany and 5 days around Lake Como. And they want four bedrooms. So far, I’m finding very limited availability with the suppliers I use. My concern is I may not be able to help them and they may have to try booking them on their own using Air B&B. I don’t like that option because it can be tough to get insurance coverage or it may require multiple insurance policies to cover the rentals and then the rest of the vacation separately. But, I need to make a determination this week and advise my clients so there is time to get a booking done before all the suitable properties are booked.
I quoted clients a guided tour in Spain and we have a range of dates, but all within about 2 months next Autumn. There is still availability, but we did find two of those weeks don’t have enough capacity for all 3 travelers. I can book 2, but not the 3rd person. So, we’re now limited to a narrower range. My clients will need to decide on a date quickly or risk missing out.
We just booked clients traveling to Alaska in July. We quoted them a price with flights on Tuesday evening. They contacted us Wednesday morning and told us to book it. But, by then, the flights were more expensive and less optimal. The original flights quoted were all booked up.
Even for ourselves, we’re finding 2023 to be challenging. We have two graduations to celebrate. Our son will graduate from high school and one of our daughters will graduate from college in May 2023. We going to celebrate by spending much of the summer in Hawaii. We are booking at a resort, but because it is for multiple weeks, we’re being advised to schedule it now so we don’t have to worry about switching bresorts as other travelers book their own vacations. We also want to take a cruise around the islands for a week. While there are still cabins available, they’re getting booked quickly. I’m giving myself a deadline to have my bookings made by the end of February to ensure I won’t have trouble. That is 16 months in advance of travel. That gives you an idea of what you can expect – book early or risk your vacation.
So Finish Reading and Book Now!!
If you’ve made it this far in this lengthy blog post, then you surely have interest in traveling. Hopefully you can understand now why I’m concerned that many will miss the opportunity to have the vacation they want. Many will instead have the most acceptable vacations they can get, and some won’t vacation at all. As better COVID treatments enter the market in the next 2-3 months and infection rates drop, people will become more confident and want to start booking vacations. Along with growing confidence will be loosening travel requirements and restrictions and easier international travel. This, in turn, will lead to greater travel confidence. COVID confidence combined with travel confidence will be all that is needed to open all the booking floodgates. When that happens, people will find the vacations they want will be less available than they expect and likely cost more than they expect. If you are someone with FTCs, you may even find you can’t make use of them when you want for the vacation you want.
Of course, we could all be wrong. A new problem could develop and surprise everyone. But, I’m less concerned about that because I’ve had the benefit of reading many articles and sitting in on a few webinars lately where multiple experts have all said the same thing – we’re nearing the end of COVID. So, you can wait for the data to prove it, which will be a lagging indicator. And if you lag too long, you will likely miss out on the current low prices, great promotions, and available capacity. Good luck, everyone!