Home Travel Health Is the Omicron Variant Hurting Travel Sales? Top Host Agencies Say Not...

By James Shillinglaw, Dec 10, 2021

For many travel advisors it seems like just waiting for the other shoe to drop. As countries tighten restrictions and add new protocols for visitors to counter the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID, many believe travel sales are bound to be hit at some point. The good news is that so far things are still looking pretty good, though the caution is anything can still happen. Meanwhile Cruise Planners, a top cruise-selling host, just posted a strong sales performance, while at the same time 80 percent of Travel Experts advisors say they expect to see an increase in fourth quarter sales.

Despite the emergence of the new Omicron variant, Cruise Planners’ data shows that the pent-up demand for travel supersedes the worries travelers are having with headlines inundating the news. Travel bookings for the host agency have increased across all three of its top cruise destinations, including Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean.

New bookings also have increased proving that the pent-up demand for travel is at a fever pitch. Cruise Planners says this is due in part to its strong marketing efforts to drive performance, including publication of itsr 2022 Vacation Planning Guide and direct mail pieces, which have traditionally correlated with increased sales activity.

“As we continue to monitor the Omicron variant, we are encouraged that preliminary studies suggest it is less dangerous than the Delta variant and our purchase activity was not negatively impacted by the news,” said Michelle Fee, founder and CEO of Cruise Planners (pictured above). “In fact, last week’s purchases were up 35 percent compared to the same week two years ago.”

While Europe cruises continue to be Cruise Planners top selling product and key driver of purchase activity, both Alaska and the Caribbean have seen increased activity in the past two weeks. Europe cruise purchases are up 26 percent compared to this same time in 2019, and marks elevated performance in the past six weeks, meaning travelers are ready to travel again.

Alaska cruises for 2022 are definitely the hot destination to buy. Cruise Planners’ sales have doubled over the same week two years ago. On the other end of the travel destination spectrum, the Caribbean is making a comeback and for the first time in many months, it outsold European cruises in the past week.

In addition, the demand for luxury travel has been solid and Cruise Planners continues to book world cruises for future sailings. The host also is seeing elongated booking windows as one in 10 had a departure date of 2023.  Indeed, Cruise Planners is warning travelers to beware, since demand will outpace the supply over the next two years.

In addition to a stellar week of sales, Cruise Planners recently received a score of 88 during a survey conducted by Franchise Business Review, which measures a company’s Franchisee Satisfaction Index. Its score ranked 15 points higher than FBR’s industry standard benchmark of 72 In addition, the host agency’s satisfaction score improved by seven points since 2020—all this during the toughest year in our industry’s history.

Meanwhile, in a recent survey by Travel Experts, another leading host agency with a focus on luxury travel, 80 percent of advisors reported an increase in business in the fourth quarter of 2021 and 96 percent of those reporting are seeing a steady flow of bookings for 2022. Travel to Europe overwhelmingly leads the way with 88 percent of advisors noting that the Continent is either number one, two or three in bookings being made for 2022.

Following the high trend of Europe bookings, a total of 42 percent of the advisors list domestic vacations as one of the top three for 2022 bookings followed by 38 percent for cruises, 38 percent for Mexico, 34 percent for Caribbean vacations, 29 percent for river cruises, 17 percent for South America trips and 8 percent for Hawaii and Central America. A sampling of the Travel Experts’ advisors who are reporting an upsurge in business over the last quarter include:

Rob DelliBovi, owner of RDB Hospitality in Miami Beach, Fla., said that despite the fact that “our corporate business is down about 50 percent, our entertainment and music bookings are above 2019 revenues, and our celebrity business is the best it has ever been.”

Holly Lombardo, a Travel Experts advisor in Atlanta, said her My business is exceeding 2019 based on unprecedented referrals. “However, some folks still are concerned about international travel because of the potential negative antigen test to return to U.S.,” she says. “They do not want to undergo quarantine out of country.”

Elaine Carey, a Travel Experts advisor in Whispering Pines, N.C., says her business has just begun to bloom in the past couple of months. “Boy am I happy about it, even though I’m overwhelmed,” she says. “Now, if only that new variant dissipates quickly.”

Jennifer Martin, owner of Nashville Luxury Travel in Nashville Tenn., says she definitely sees a shift in attitude. “People who have their vaccines are ready to get back out there and have accepted the extra hassle involved in traveling internationally,” she says. “The pandemic doesn’t seem to be slowing our business down, but every trip takes longer to plan than before. And we always feel like disaster in the form of some new variant is looming around the corner. Our mindset is realistic and optimistic.”

Marcy Kalish, a Travel Experts advisor in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., says she is very busy with new bookings with honeymooners as her biggest demographic followed by families.

Nevertheless, there are also a number of the Travel Experts’ advisors who are still experiencing difficult times as new COVID variants spring up.

Rebecca Wilson, owner of Excellent Vacations Travel Service in Sun City West, Ariz., said: unfortunately, due to COVID, she is still receiving cancellations from hesitant clients scheduled to travel in the first quarter of 2022. “This is still a difficult time,” she says.

Caroline Labbe, co-owner of Labbe Travel in Park City, Utah said things are looking strong but this new variant may deliver some additional bumps to recovery.

Linda de Sosa, owner of Bucketlist Travel Consulting n Houston, said she just had a lot of bookings cancel for December. “Some of these are for fright, others for new quarantine rules,” she says. It is very difficult to get people to book close in when rules and flight schedules keep changing.”

Eileen Anderson, a Travel Experts advisor in Raleigh N.C., said her clients are generally leaning toward mid-to-late 2022 for planning to avoid repeated cancellations as have been experienced in 2021.

Renee Taylor, a Travel Experts advisor in Searcy, Ariz. Said things were really looking good for the second and third quarters of 2022. “Then the Delta variant popped up and people started seeing that even fully vaccinated people were getting the virus and we started to see the panic rise,” she says. “I was still optimistic with the booster becoming available. However, as soon as the Omicron variant started being discussed in the media, people started to panic and consider cancelling their trips over the holidays and first quarter of 2022. Suddenly my optimism that I brought back from my travels in Europe is starting to diminish.”

For more information on Cruise Planners, visit www.cruiseplanners.com or www.cruiseplannersfranchise.com. For more information on Travel Experts, call 800-274-2544; email info@travelxperts.com or visit www.travel-xperts.com.