Consumers are ready to travel after months of being told to stay home, and many want to go now. But they can’t always get what they want or the prices they expect, and travel advisors have the unpleasant task of delivering the news.
“Demand is really crazy right now,” said Lauren Cardinale, CTA, owner of Travel Design Co. in New Orleans. “I feel like we're real estate agents in a seller’s market: ‘Come to the table with cash in hand ready to purchase.’ If you wait, your room type or flight may be unavailable or may have increased several hundred dollars. We are watching inventory disappear in front of our eyes.”
“It’s tough,” agreed Katie Cadar, director of leisure sales for Los Angeles-based TravelStore. “For the popular destinations, there’s all this pent-up desire to travel. The drive destinations are very popular, very expensive and quite full. Weekends in Santa Barbara? Next to impossible. We’re trying to have people be flexible. Sometimes they’re shocked at the prices.”
Hawaii is full too, and not just for last-minute travel but for this year’s festive season as well, Cadar said.
Cardinale said she’s coming up against tight supply for travel during the remainder of this summer and again in December, especially around the holidays. The shortage of space is most acute for U.S. national parks, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean through the summer and then again Thanksgiving through Christmas, and at Disney World through the fall, she said.
Linda Imel, owner of Kerrville (Texas) Travel, said her big challenge has been finding close-in space in Florida, including at popular beach destinations and at the theme parks. “Destin is impossible. Disney is ridiculous. They’re just not available.”
The lack of availability can come as a shock to clients, said Kari Thomas, CTC, president of Will Travel in Langhorne, PA. “Except for really high seasons, there’s been so much inventory out there that, before the pandemic, rarely did I have to say to somebody, ‘That’s completely sold out and so are your choices B, C and D.’ It’s a bit of surprise and it takes education.”
Where there is availability, prices are often high. “Mexico’s available, but it’s outrageously expensive,” Imel said.
Imel serves a wealthy clientele and many of her customers will pay whatever it takes. “People will say, ‘I don’t care what it costs I just want to go somewhere.’” But when it comes to finding luxury experiences for travel this year, “there’s just nothing there to book.”
Cadar said that “Hawaii is more expensive this year than I’ve ever seen it, and flights are crazy expensive, unless you’re planning way in advance.”
Thomas said it feels to her like prices just keep going up. That’s not welcome news, especially to clients who are rebooking trips that were cancelled because of the pandemic.
“When the future travel credits were there, it sounded really good – we’ll just rebook. But looking to next year, prices are up. So, where they were getting a trip for $2,000, now they might be looking at $2,800. Some of those credits are not going as far as we thought when we originally got them, especially for people trying to take advantages of deals,” Thomas said.
Actually, you can forget about finding deals, advisors said. “There are definitely no bargains – none,” Imel said.
That too can come as a surprise. “For people who are calling saying, ‘I’m looking for a bargain because nobody wants to travel,’ you have to explain that people do want to travel. Not everybody understands that travel is back,” Thomas said.
Next year too
While the biggest challenge to finding space is for travel this summer and fall and for the winter holidays, travelers looking to book farther out are starting to bump up against tight availability too, advisors said.
Thomas said she’s had “pretty good luck” getting space on cruises for later this year, “because people don’t necessarily want to be the guinea pigs.” But space on Europe cruises for next year is scarce. “I had someone who wanted Britain and Ireland for next year. It’s really tight to find that cruise.”
Cadar, who usually sells a lot of Europe and Africa, said she’s having a similar experience. She’s been able to book Europe for this summer for the relatively few clients wanting to go. But “for next summer, Europe is going to be ridiculously hard to get.”
The same is true for Africa. “Africa for this year, I can get space. You want to go now, I can make it happen. Next summer? Almost impossible.”
She’s seeing 2022 cruises fill up too, Cadar said.
Air travel woes
Mallory Jones of You Deserve It Vacations in Fort Worth has been booking a lot of Mexico these past three months. Finding space hasn’t been an issue, nor is she finding prices to be unreasonable – except when clients are looking to travel within 30 days, she said.
“I had a few contact me at the end of May who wanted to go in June or July. I said, ‘If you want to do that, you have to be prepared to pay.’”
But where Jones is running into trouble is in air travel to Mexico, both in terms of space and pricing. “I can look at certain destinations and know that typically there would be a flight every hour and that’s not the case now.”
Clients are taking a hit on ticket prices too. “There was a point in time where you could easily get to Mexico for no more than $300 roundtrip from Dallas Fort Worth, nonstop. What I’m seeing now is more $500 to $600 roundtrip per person,” Jones said.
Of course, Mexico isn’t the only destination affected by limited air supply. “There is a shortage of pilots. A lot of flights have been cancelled or there’s been schedule changes. I have spent quite a few days going through options to change people’s flights,” Cadar said.
As for car rentals? Don’t get advisors started.
Next time: Managing client expectations in the current booking environment.