“2020 started off with just incredible promise,” Misty Belles, Virtuoso managing director, global public relations, said during a press event as part of the luxury travel network’s virtual Virtuoso Travel Week. “We were seeing growth in all sectors.” Air, hotel, cruise and on-site bookings were all showing double-digit growth. In January, polling of its agencies showed plenty of optimism, with 84 percent saying they expected higher sales in 2020 than 2019.
But, as we all know, COVID-19 (coronavirus) became a global pandemic and the numbers got worse. From March through July, Virtuoso bookings were down nearly 80 percent or more each month, with April being the worst month. From May on, there has been a small recovery.
So, what are the network’s advisors saying? “Almost universally, they say that now is the opportunity to reimagine what we’re seeing in the industry,” Belles said. More than half of all advisors (53 percent) chose this as their top pick regarding ‘which statements best describe your attitude about the travel industry right now?’ A similar 54 percent of U.S. and Canadian advisors picked this. Forty-three percent of U.S. and Canadian advisors say they are very concerned about the future and that recovery will be slow. Forty percent said this crisis will forever change how consumers travel. Three percent of all advisors said “the worst is behind us.”
The most common response as to when leisure travel bookings will begin to grow was “in the next six months or more” (55 percent globally; 57 percent in the U.S. and Canada). Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) said in the next three to six months, while 14 percent said more than a year from now.
The plurality of advisors globally (47 percent) and in the U.S. and Canada (48 percent) are seeing no or very few bookings at this time. Only EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) said the majority of their new bookings are for travel in 2020 (35 percent). Thirty-six percent of U.S. and Canada advisors did say they are receiving bookings for 2021. Interestingly, among U.S. and Canadian advisors, 45 percent say they are booking ocean cruises—which many expected to be among the last sectors to return. More than one-quarter (28 percent) are booking river cruises.
Additionally, many say they are booking beach or island destinations, either domestic (31 percent) or international (30 percent). Domestic adventure destinations (31 percent) are also popular for advisors in the U.S. and Canada.
When it comes to the most important factors among clients who are booking international trips, flexible cancellation or rebooking policies was the clear pick across all regions. Eighty-three percent of Virtuoso advisors globally said this was the No. 1 priority. Also popular were COVID-19 infection rate at the destination (48 percent) and cleaning and safety protocols or the hotel/cruise line (38 percent).