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With no concrete end in sight to the pandemic, travel advisors are nonetheless optimistic, albeit guardedly, about the industry's comeback this year.
That optimism, however, comes with caveats - most notably the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements that all air travelers provide proof of negative COVID-19 tests to enter the U.S. beginning on Jan. 26.
"I believe with better cooperation from the CDC that by mid-April we should be able to see things return to mostly normal," said Lydia Blanton of Wishing on Travel. "Many people will have taken the COVID-19 vaccination by then, and that, coupled with the natural herd-immunity, which is on the rise, should allow restrictions to ease up, as cases decline."
Blanton was not as optimistic about 2021 cruise business. "Unfortunately, I don't see the cruise lines successfully sailing much, if any, in 2021," she said. "They're held to such higher standards … [and] scrutinized so much more than all other aspects of travel."
She added, "I would like to see CLIA take them to task, as the CDC seems determined to eradicate cruising forever by their actions. Most of the people I talk to are ready to cruise and don't find it any more risky than living their everyday lives."
Blanton urged her fellow travel advisors to reach out to their legislatures and lobbyists to learn about the key issues and how to affect change.
"Research in this area is becoming as important as researching destinations," she said. "Learning how Congress works, and who you can talk to, can be done by joining an organization such as National Write Your Congressman, (www.nwyc.com) like I have."
Similarly, Jennifer Doncsecz of VIP Vacations, LLC believes 2021 predictions are dependent on how the U.S. government acts - and reacts - going forward.
"We need our government to focus on actions that will have an impact," she said. "The CDC announcement will likely have a significant impact on overall consumer confidence, leading to likely less travel for the start of 2021, while also not, in our opinion, having any impact whatsoever on the rates of infection or spread of COVID."
On a brighter note, Doncsecz is of the mind that there is considerable pent-up demand for travel. "So once the vaccine is more widely distributed and ineffective policies retracted/modified, we believe that the second half of 2021 - perhaps even the second quarter - will bring a significant recovery to travel," she said. "In no way do I believe that we will immediately return to 2019 levels, but there should be a sharp increase in business followed by a steady rise again."
Kim Cook of Love to Travel believes that international travel will be limited through March or April due to the CDC testing requirement. "We are hopeful we will see consistent travel in the summer once the vaccine is more widespread," she said. "Our wedding groups for this year are primarily in the fall and winter, so we're keeping our fingers crossed we don't lose those again this year."
For his part, Richard Turen, senior partner at The Churchill & Turen Industry Consulting Group, believes 2021 will be profitable if Europe opens up by May 15. He also said he is optimistic about African safari options and cold-weather, adventure destinations such as Antarctica.
"We are prepared to thrive if business is down as much as 15 percent from 2019 totals in 2021," Turen added. "Right now, we are seeing cruise and tour bookings on the luxury side running about six percent ahead of 2019 figures for 2022. We couldn't be more optimistic."
Claudette Covey is managing editor of AGENTatHOME
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