“WE MUST LEARN LEARN with it”
Lesley Keyter, CEO and Founder of The Travel Lady Agency – South Travel Inc. in Calgary, sums up the industry’s frustration with wry efficiency: “Just when we thought it was safe to get back in the water. Omicron has really caused more problems.”
But whether it’s fatigue from the pandemic, or confidence in vaccine status — or a bit of both — this time around, more customers are willing to go ahead with their vacation plans.
Keyter says her agency has had a few cancellations, “but most people just want to go on vacation and feel like they should be fine with double vaccinations and a booster.”
Amazingly, some customers have even become blasé about positive in-destination testing.
Keyter says: “Of course what [clients] have had trouble testing positive and had to stay there for five or six days until they got a negative test. They were quite philosophical about it and said that given the weather in Alberta, they would rather stay in Mexico.”
She adds that cruise bookings for her agency are still going strong and her staff is busy. “I think we all realize that we have to learn to live with ommicron.”
TOUR OPS ESTABLISHED TO KEEP FLIGHTS GOOD
For all those customers looking to travel this winter, tour operators are determined to keep the core programs going for the winter.
Last week, ACV announced it was temporarily suspending service to more than a dozen sunny destinations, effective Jan. 24 for the remainder of the winter season, due to reduced demand. The suspensions affect 7% of ACV passengers, ACV vice president Nino Montagnese said in a letter to agents.
ACV is so far on track to continue operating to 23 sunny destinations throughout the winter season, he added.
Transat has also had to cut services — 30% of flights until at least February 25 — and Joe Adamo, Chief Distribution Officer, Transat and President, TDC, agrees that 2022 “will not start as we would like.”
However, as Adamo tells Travelweek, “we still plan to operate the majority of our flights this winter to many destinations in the South, the United States, Europe and within Canada.”
Added Adamo: “The hard work and perseverance of travel agents are commendable. While it’s easy to get discouraged at times, let’s not forget that before this new variant we saw very positive booking trends, more people traveled and life felt a little more normal.”
Sunwing has also slashed its flight schedule in these early weeks of 2022 and is urging customers to sign up for flight alerts on Sunwing.ca. For eligible bookings, Sunwing passengers can change their departure date up to seven days prior to their original departure date.
Samantha Taylor, Sunwing’s Chief Marketing Officer, said Sunwing is committed to providing further updates to agents and customers as the situation evolves.
“As we continue to assess the impact of the variant on the length of the winter season, we would like to sincerely thank our travel agent partners and customers for their understanding and patience as we navigate this pandemic together. Our relationships with travel agents are so important to us at Sunwing,” said Taylor.
“CANCELLATIONS ARE SUPER DISAPPOINTMENT”
As travel agents continue to work hard to please their customers, the flight cancellations may have been understandable, but there is frustration nonetheless. “Airline and tour operator cancellations have been extremely disappointing and the lack of commission protection even more so,” said Sandy Willett of Vision Travel in Waterloo, ON.
One of the many challenges for agents today is to put all the usual required work into a booking, even though they know at some level that it could eventually be canceled.
“Many had no choice but to start booking when customers started asking, but found they now had even more work to do on the cancellations, with no compensation,” said Travel Time – Lois Barbour of TPI.
Selling travel in these uncertain days can be an endless loop of waiting, as the owner of the agency St. John’s, NL can attest. “One group for the end of January holds, but I understand the uncertainties and I encourage all of them to have Allianz insurance that would protect them from cancellation if they test positive for their COVID tests before departure.”
Barbour added: “I am also starting discussions with groups for later in the spring, but I encourage them to at least wait until the final payment is completed to make decisions. We can always hope that 4-6 weeks of this wave will see us elsewhere, and with more confidence for April-May bookings.”
The biggest problem now, as she puts it, “is that there is no endgame. We have the highest vaccination coverage and some of the strictest measures. It is very difficult to know if the time spent on future studies will result in actual trips or more cancellations, which is a very daunting prospect.”
Barbour added: “I entered the travel industry not to cancel travel and flight plans, but rather to help my customers embrace the special moments and experiences that travel brings. more of that will do.”
To read the full article, including responses from more travel agents in Canada, click here for the January 13th issue of Travelweek.