A panel of tour and travel industry experts comprising international tour operators, a major U.S. travel supplier and a fabled U.S. destination in the U.S. Northeast last week re-launched Connect Travel’s “Staying Connected” series of virtual roundtables with a spirited discussion of the near-term outlook for the industry in 2021. More than 200 people saw and/or heard the broadcast.
The panel was comprised of the following participants:
Pabs Raghava, CEO, Tours Limited
Radhika Tripurani, senior director, public relations and digital marketing, Tours Limited
Audrey Bialas, director of sales, Visit Hershey & Harrisburg
Julie Payne, tourism enhancement Specialist, Hershey’s Chocolate World
Madhavi Chimalapati, principal senior director, sales & marketing, Tours Limited
Shari Bailey (moderator), vice president, Connect Travel, general manager, Connect Travel Events
Top Half Dozen Takeaways
1. It now seems that any real tour and travel industry recovery won’t take off until at least the second quarter of 2021 and, possibly, in Q3. Hopes of a Q1 recovery launch faded as the COVID-19 crisis has kept consumer demand low and concerns high.
2. There are three main things that need to be cleared up from both source countries and destination countries. First is the opening of borders; second is vaccine availability and use; and third is sufficient airline seat capacity. If all of these take place, operators could begin getting new bookings by the end of March.
3. Many meetings and events that were cancelled in 2020 have been moved forward to 2021, creating logistical challenges—but challenges that can be overcome.
4. As international and group travel continues to languish, operators, with the help of destinations, are developing new FIT product.
5. Some operators are reporting an increase in request for domestic products and itineraries.
6. Safety, security and peace of mind (SSP) are what consumers want and constitute a number one priority for operators, although there could be an easing of some of SSP protocols once vaccination numbers increase appreciably.
Shari Bailey: “We’re close—we’re closer than we’ve ever been to recovery. So, what does that look like
and how do we move forward?
Pabs Raghava: “We had to put everybody in furlough. Now, we are opening up 2021. We’re just in the in a process of already launching our 2021 products and looking for a whole better year than 2020.
Pabs Raghava: “When COVID started to happen around mid-march of 2020, we were ahead of sales by 20 percent over 2019. Already we were way ahead actually, and we were looking forward for a very good 2020 and then, of course, the COVID thing happened.”
Audrey Bialas: “Last year, events like meetings and conventions and sports and things like that all got cancelled or displaced got kind of shoved into slots for this year. So now, it’s a matter of kind of figuring out where those open slots are based on what got So, pushed into 2021—that’s what we’re trying to get a handle on now.”
Julie Payne: “Our third market (after international and student) is the group tour travel market, which is the traditional inbound motor coach tourism, and that’s actually coming back first.”
Radhika Tripurani: “There may not be so many groups but there will definitely be small groups like families and friends and you know all the people are traveling in pods … they’re meeting with their own set of people, where they feel safe to gather and meet and all … and those are the people who are traveling together as well, so we have requests for cabin rentals or small band tours where they can travel safely and securely that’s what we are working with our partners like our coach companies or the hotels or the restaurants that we work with or the attractions that we have included in the itinerary.”
Audrey Bialas: “We never stopped selling but selling is different now um so without trade shows taking place in that face-to-face interaction we’ve had to find different ways to stay in touch with our customers and with our partnerships.”
Julie Payne: “I look at 2021 as a year to be a pioneer for tourism. We’re all in on this
call and we’re involved in this industry and this year we are very blessed. We are very thankful. That’s how I feel every single day—thankful. So, as a pioneer I don’t think we look at each other as competitors anymore. I think we look at each other as pioneers.”
Pabs Raghava: “You know, if we hang in there for the next two to three months, everything will open up. Everything will shape up. Everything will look clear. We’ll be on our way to go. We just have to be patient a little bit more, and then I think we are good to go.”
Madhavi Chimalapati: “Right now, it’s more like being a personal relationship with all of the suppliers. They are not only like you or know you. They’re not only partners; they’ve been our friends all throughout. So, we are constantly in touch with them. We exchange messages. I think we are just trying to build on the relationship that we already have with these people.”