Vaccine news leads to a spike in travel bookings for 2021 and beyond
By Hannah Sampson
Ron Adams has some big vacation plans for next year. The New Jersey ad agency president just has to wait another eight months to make them happen - and with this week's distribution of the first coronavirus vaccine doses in the United States, he feels like these are plans he will not have to cancel.
In August, Adams and 15 immediate and extended family members plan to fly across the Atlantic and board a cruise ship in Southampton, England, for a voyage around Northern Europe. The same month, he, his wife and their three kids will head west for a visit to Jackson Hole, Yosemite National Park in California and Colorado for his nephew's postponed wedding.
"We knew the trip was fully refundable," said Adams, 47. "Certainly now that the vaccine is at least out and there's availability and it's happening - it's real - it feels a lot better for sure."
If booking trends hold up and coronavirus cases go down, Adams is likely to be joined by masses of travellers in the summer of 2021, with a swell expected to stretch into the end of the year and beyond. A dozen travel companies and organisations, encompassing cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents and resorts - told The Washington Post that they are seeing bookings pick up for the second half of next year after a brutal stretch that brought the world to a standstill.
"With the most challenging environment comes the biggest opportunity for a return," said Brad Tolkin, the chairman and CEO of World Travel Holdings, a travel company that sells cruise, villa and resort vacations. "And I think it's going to be thunderous."
At his own company, bookings are "heavily skewed" toward the second half of next year and into 2022.
"We are taking an unprecedented amount of business now for 2022 relative to how much we took last year for 2020, pre-pandemic," Tolkin said. "It's just amazing how far in advance people are booking."
At Sandals Resorts, bookings for summer are spiking, deputy chairman Adam Stewart said in a statement. The company is grappling with a coronavirus outbreak at its Grenada resort, but it is still pulling in big numbers for next year.
"Summer 2021 is seeing a double-digit percentage gain in overall occupancy when compared with previous summer booking trends, including summer 2019," Stewart said, adding that the increase stretches into 2022 and 2023. "There is no doubt that we're seeing an upward bookings trend as a testament to the pent-up wanderlust we've all experienced this past year."
Virtuoso, a travel agency network, is seeing the most bookings for September and October of next year, with increases especially pronounced for international trips.
"All along, we've been saying that Q3 2021 is when we expect to see travel making a meaningful comeback and these numbers support that premise," spokeswoman Misty Belles said in a statement.
Some of those bookings were spurred by vaccine developments. The first doses in the United States were given earlier this week to health-care workers; so far in the United Kingdom, more than 130,000 people have been vaccinated.
Black Tomato, a luxury travel company, recorded 300 percent more sales this week than the last, and 200% more honeymoons have been booked this week. Customers have been bringing up the vaccine in conversations with experts.
Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, said business has picked up since the distribution of the vaccine started last week, with people booking trips that start as early as June.
"We've seen the phones ringing more," he said. Customers are thinking about their plans with a mind-set of: "Based on what I'm hearing Fauci say - I should be able to get a vaccine by March or April - I should be able to travel in the summer."
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the vaccine could be available even to low-priority groups by April.
However, experts warn that even widespread vaccinations will not suddenly make travel return to pre-pandemic times.
Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the rollout will be complicated. Authorities will also have to combat misinformation and disinformation, and it's still not known if asymptomatic people can transmit the virus after getting the vaccine. As a result, she said, it's difficult to predict when the global situation will be improved enough for people to feel comfortable travelling.
"I think that the tools are there for it to be in the latter half of 2021," she said, but that requires a lot of work now.
She expects mask mandates to stay in place for a while. And she said travellers need to consider where they're going, and whether vaccinations are widespread in those areas.
Gronvall said she was sad to cancel her own vacations this year and looks forward to a time when she can take them - whenever that will be.
"I'm not booking yet personally, but a lot of people are," she said. "For people who have the means to do so, I think the post-covid travel boom will be big."