Hope and optimism as Delta threatens travel industry recovery


In the final scene of “The perfect storm,The crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail sees the sun breaking through the clouds just before being engulfed by a rogue wave. For those in the travel industry, particularly the over 1,500 in Las Vegas earlier this month for Virtuoso Travel Week, optimism was tempered by apprehension as the delta variant of covid-19 continues to spread.

In what is by far the industry’s worst downturn since the Ice Age ended prehistoric mobility, the World Travel & Tourism Council reported an aggregate loss of $ 4.5 trillion in revenue last year, the contribution of travel to global GDP falling 49.1%.

For some, any new restrictions on international travel won’t really make a difference. Australia has been closed to US visitors for over a year, although it does allow film production. It is not expected to reopen until mid-2022 at the earliest, said Chris Allison, business partnerships manager for the Americas at Tourism Australia.

For others, the spread of covid-delta is already having an impact. During his roundtables with travel advisers and journalists, Israel’s tourism commissioner for North America, Eyal Carlin, had to change course. After the country reopened to small groups of tourists in May, an increase in infections meant it was breaking news that the borders were closing again.

However, most of the announcements were about the restart and new openings, as well as a lot of innovations, which the crisis travel industry has always been very good at.

Chris Austin, sales manager for the new luxury cruise line Explora Journeys, said she raked in $ 1 million in presales in the first week of her waitlist opening. The initial trip is not until 2023.

American Airlines begins its first non-stop flights from Miami to Anguilla in December, enthusiastically shares Kenroy Herbert, chairman of the tourism board. He says the island has been “covid-free” for six months.

While other destinations were closed, Los Cabos drew an influx of first-time visitors. Now, with more competition again, he is developing a strategy to attract them, explains Rodrigo Esponda, director general of the tourist office.

After a 66% drop in international visitors last year, Pro Colombia took the opportunity to reassess its approach to the market. He created five new tourist regions rich in trendy experiences, from private islands to local culture and gastronomy. Its new target is luxury travelers.

Despite the pandemic, Kerzner’s One & Only increased its portfolio by 30%, opening resorts in Mexico, Malaysia and Montenegro. Greece is coming next summer.

Its sister brand will open Atlantis, The Royal, in Dubai early next year. The 43-story cantilevered skyscraper will have 231 luxury apartments, 693 hotel rooms and 102 suites.

Kerzner’s chief commercial officer Brett Armitage said the delay to the fourth quarter was due to supply chain issues. Another problem for hotel owners, he says, is that the cost of building materials has risen relative to budgets.

Jane Mackie, senior vice president, global marketing – luxury brands for IHG Hotels & Resorts, apparently has dozens of openings in her brands InterContinental, Regent, Six Senses, Kimpton, Indigo and Voco. There will also be a brand new soft. Like Marriott’s Luxury Collection, the new flag, which does not yet have a name, will target owners who want to benefit from IHG’s advertising, sales, reservations and purchases, but want their hotels to have an individual identity.

Mackie agrees with Armitage – openings are harder than ever. Problems range from having enough linens and dishes to delivering furniture on time. The changes induced by Covid in the local community create even greater obstacles. For example, many hotels outsource their laundry. In some cases, the companies that were there before the pandemic are no longer there now.

The Kempinski Palace Engelberg in Switzerland recently opened after delays related to the covid.

Along with supply chain issues and labor shortages, the pandemic has caused hotel groups to look beyond traditional business models. While Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts just opened in New Orleans, will debut in Napa later this year, and have properties slated to open in Minneapolis and Nashville next year, it is expanding its market presence from rental of villas.

Ben Trodd, senior vice president, hotel sales and marketing for the Toronto-based group, says he now offers 750 managed villas that rent from $ 2,000 to $ 40,000 per night. In some places, rental income from villas is 20% higher than before the pandemic.

For Accor, next month, it will reopen the Fairmont Century Plaza, after reducing its inventory by a third to 400 rooms and suites. Like others, the pandemic is forcing innovation. And after working with the National Hockey League to create a covid-free environment for its playoff teams last year, Accor is launching a program called Bubbles & Buyouts. Your group may take over all or part of selected hotels with similar protection protocols.

Virgin Hotels is a prime example of the constant flow of good and bad news that industry executives face on a daily basis. Its CEO James Bermingham says that for its hotels, which includes a new property in Las Vegas that opened in June, the good news is very strong leisure bookings and an upsurge in meetings. The bad news is that as the delta virus spreads, groups end up shrinking in size. Participants decide at the last minute that they don’t want to go. On the positive side, “Events don’t cancel each other out,” he notes.

Shadi Omeish, general manager of 1 Hotel West Hollywood, was puzzled over the new masking requirements for indoor activities. His hotel had already created several outdoor spaces, so he quickly moved his meals to these places.

The warrant is doing no harm to business, so far. “The impact has been very, very small. People want to travel. People want to be with other people, ”he says.

Other vendors supported this theme. Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, said bookings for 2022 were 200% ahead of 2019, the travel agency’s best year. Destinations like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Botswana became top sellers. Group travel is on the rise significantly, with extended families and groups of friends redeeming departures, creating their own bubbles.

Yet he hopes when all is said and done; it will finish at 90% of 2019 levels. “People are always nervous. People book and then cancel.

Mark S. Conroy, Managing Director of the Americas for Silversea, echoed the optimistic outlook from the cruise executives in attendance. Its 2023 world cruise, with fares ranging from $ 67,000 to $ 250,000 per person, sold out within weeks when it went on sale last fall. He says past customers book back-to-back cruises. “Many of our guests felt like they wasted a year and a half of their lives. They are ready to go.

Ellen Bettridge, CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, says she sees the same trend. “A customer has booked five this year, and he’s already done three. It expands to include combinations of river cruises and train travel.

Celebrity Cruises sees a similar percentage of novice cruisers as before the pandemic, a very positive data point, said Dondra Ritzenhaler, senior vice president of sales. “We’ve been so diligent with the protocols, and they work, and people want to navigate.” She says having 100% of the crew vaccinated resonates with consumers.

While travel industry suppliers generally avoid getting into political issues, executives at Collette, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold have recently instituted vaccination warrants. For coach tours that cross multiple borders, this is the only way for them to ensure that their clients will comply with the entry requirements that change daily.

Behind the scenes, there’s more work and increased costs, says Guy Young, president of Insight and Luxury Gold. In addition to a driver and a guide, there is now a well-being agent at each departure. This person takes care of all the paperwork and bureaucracy related to the covid.

In some places, the company had to find alternative locations or restaurants due to closures or staffing issues. Closed borders mean fewer foreign workers, a vital part of the tourism industry in many places. In January he will be launching something new, his very first routes to Hawaii.

He was asked if navigating through the pandemic looked a bit like “The Perfect Storm” film, an industry executive said to me, “Well, that seems to be the case some days. Hopefully we’re not on the boat with George Clooney.

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