Do you even remember where you stashed your suitcases? No doubt they’re somewhere in that utility closet where, over the last 11 months, more and more junk has accumulated while the Tumi and Samsonite sets move further and further toward the back like a Ted Cruz run for the White House.
Dee Dee Rubin and Fran Fishman hope you can find that luggage. They’re ready to go back to work. Both ladies are travel agents: a combined 70 years in the business and among the industry’s premier. Rubin is with Frosch Travel and Fishman with Protravel. They’ve been busy the past year. But it’s the wrong kind of busy.
Travel, a multi-trillion-dollar industry has been leveled by Covid. According to Virtuoso Life magazine, globally it’s estimated that 197 million of the 330 million travel and tourism related jobs were lost in 2020. In 2019, 10% of the workforce worldwide was in a travel-related field.
So, how soon are you ready to help jumpstart the industry and get back on the road? Will two shots in the arm be the catalyst to resume the life we enjoyed a year ago?
“This past year has been my most challenging year as an agent,” Chicago based Rubin lamented. Fishman, just north of New York City in Westchester, agreed. “By far the most unique,” she said. “Business, other than cancellations, was basically non-existent.”
Travel, literally flying high last February and shot down in March, came to a grinding halt with the pandemic. Itineraries were scrapped, airplanes put in storage, boats docked, mothballing the industry with no promises it would ever see the good times again. Or at least for a long, long while.
Rubin and Fishman deal in high end luxury travel and both hope the vaccination will instill enough confidence in their customers’ return to the air and sea.
“Every trip I booked from last March 15 forward was canceled,” Rubin said. “I would say maybe 20-25% have rebooked. Those who had an option for a full refund chose to take it while others have a credit but they are just not ready to use it. The travel requests I’m getting for this year are more domestic than anything else, but I think we’ll see some last-minute international bookings in the fall if things get better. Right now, it looks like heavy interest for 2022, so fingers crossed that this will be behind us by then.”
Fishman also had all of her clients cancel but she too is confident things will return.
“The first thing we’ll see is domestic trips and the Caribbean,” she said. “Cruises and Europe may take until 2022, but lately I’m sensing that this fall may be red hot, also. As soon as people get vaccinated they will be raring to go.
“My clients are bursting to travel almost anywhere,” Fishman added and laughed, “me too!”
Most experts agree that domestic travel will jumpstart the industry perhaps as early as this fall. We’ll see an increase in personal getaways and the resumption of some business travel domestically.
Joe Brancatelli has spent his career as a travel writer, mainly on the business side, and now is a nationally recognized resource for trends.
“I think we’ll see small business and individual corporate business travel trickle back in the second quarter of the year and pick up steam in the second half as long as the vaccine rollout improves,” he said.
However, Brancatelli is cautious long term. “We won’t see big conventions and meetings return until 2022 because of how long it takes to organize these events,” the editor and publisher of the popular JoeSentMe.com weekly newsletter/blog said. “I think there will be a cascade. Generally, 2021 will still be bad for business travel; 2022 will be much better. In 2023 we’ll begin to see how much business travel never returns because the boss will say, ‘No reason to take that trip, do the Zoom.’ And of course, all of this depends on the economy staying healthy and not cratering.”
While Frosch’s Rubin and Protravel’s Fishman make a living booking trips and Brancatelli counsels business travelers, Geoffrey Weill represents the destinations. Weill is founder and president of Geoffrey Weill Associates, a leading New York City high-end leisure public relations firm. He is confident the industry will see a sharp uptick sooner rather than later.
“The general consensus among the international properties we represent is things might slide back to ‘normal’ by late summer,” Weill said. “The general consensus is Europe will come back first and some predict that October will be Italy’s best October ever for tourism. We think the wealthy are aching to travel and once they’re vaccinated they’ll be on their way to the airport in droves.”
Weill, who’s excited about the late February publication of his travel memoir, All Abroad, agrees with Brancatelli about the long-term questions of business travel.
“I think we’ll see a massive reduction in business travel. I’m just not sure companies are going to be flying their staff to Maui to sit in a conference room and watch a PowerPoint,” Weill, a native Brit turned NYC street tough said. He added, “A year of Zoom has proven that extensive business travel is no longer necessary.”
Bill Miller, VP of sales and marketing for Medjet, senses momentum building among its members. Medjet, the corporate sponsor of Sunday Morning Coffee, offers a travel assistance membership program (medjet.com) that transports its hospitalized members back to the hospital of the members’ choice.
“We are hearing from our members there is a great pent-up demand for leisure travel,” Miller said. “However, travelers are more aware now than ever that it is risky to travel and we have seen an uptick in interest in not only our standard assistance membership but our Medjet Horizon program that offers an additional layer of safety and security while away from home.”
Peter Greenberg has been a longtime colleague, friend and Medjet member. I know Peter well enough to know that even a worldwide pandemic isn’t going to keep him grounded in his professional role as the travel editor for CBS News and the host of Eye on Travel, his popular weekly radio show. Peter’s been everywhere, man.
And he keeps going. Over the last few months darting across the USA and on-assignment visits to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Turkey and Croatia.
“I’m not worried about traveling at all,” the personable Greenberg said. “I’m traveling as smart as I can, as safe as I can. On the airplane I double mask and make sure my air vents are open and blowing at full tilt.
“Right now, about 60 countries are open to Americans,” the former NBC Today Show travel editor continued. “Getting somewhere is not the issue, the behavior is what concerns me. In Croatia, for instance, everyone is wearing masks and social distancing, I felt very safe. But if I go somewhere and people are being morons, I leave.”
All the travel experts I spoke with were optimistic about the return of the industry. Greenberg was flat out bullish.
“By the middle of March, I think you’ll see an explosion of domestic travel,” the Manhattan native who celebrated his 70th birthday covering the presidential inauguration in D.C. said. “What will really turn the corner, obviously, is the vaccine which I think will become a passport to travel. Cruise lines will insist on proof of vaccinations and I think they will see their bookings begin to escalate in May. Upscale leisure travel will first happen in the Caribbean because they have their act together. My guess is the fall for Europe; September should be a very hot travel month.”
Now it’s our turn. Time to make Dee Dee Rubin, Fran Fishman and the entire travel biz happy. Find the suitcase. Book the trip.