As we all adjust to life under quarantine, the travel industry remains in a state of flux. The majority of day-to-day business for travel agents remains securing refunds or rebooking travel arrangements for the fall or even next year.
With airlines going out of business and hotels shut down around the world, it’s an uncertain time for the industry, and when we all can escape our homes for a little globetrotting remains to be seen.
However, travel agents anticipate cruises, resorts, hotels and airlines to be fairly flexible and affordable in the months following the end of the COVID-19 crisis, potentially giving those that have felt restless and stuck inside the opportunity to cut loose with some luxury travel.
“I know everyone is going a bit stir crazy by now and having a trip to look forward to is a good way to get our minds off of the uncertainty of our current isolation,” said Sue Kasmar of local travel agency, Sue Kasmar Travel.
Ms. Kasmar expects that once travel bans are lifted, it’s still likely people will be more comfortable traveling “closer to home,” and suggested several resorts and destinations within the U.S. that are more rural, with plenty of space.
Her top picks include Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming, Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Amangiri in Southern Utah, and Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina.
“All of these resorts offer wide open spaces, luxurious accommodations, wonderful dining and a variety of wellness activities,” said Ms. Kasmar.
With daily reports coming in about the battle to defeat coronavirus fought by Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the UK, some airfare prices in the fall have dropped to half the typical price for a business class trip to Europe, mostly due to the hesitation to book travel plans to the continent.
In the past, when travelers are reluctant to go to Europe, the industry has seen a shift to countries like Canada and Mexico, as well as the U.S.
“It’s the same thing that happened a couple years ago when there was terrorism happening in France and in Spain. We saw an uptick in Alaska and Canada, Hawaii and Mexico, and a downturn in Europe. I’m assuming that’s going to be the case,” said Tanya Bryant, general manager for TravelStore’s Santa Barbara location.
One suggestion Ms. Bryant had was the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train trip through the western part of Canada.
“It’s very interesting. It does gear toward an older crowd. You don’t sleep on the train, you’re in four- or five-star hotels every night. You can kind of customize it to what you want,” said Ms. Bryant.
“When we had the terrorism in Europe and everyone was staying closer to home, the majority of what I was booking was that train. I think I had six or seven groups of people, different times of the year, on that train.”
One interesting development has been the response from cruise lines in the past few weeks.
Many lines have simply decided to cancel all of their cruises for a particular period of time, but some have been offering full refunds as well as significant credits for cruises in the future, according to Charles de L’Arbre, co-owner of the Santa Barbara Travel Bureau.
“What we’re seeing is that probably the cruise industry going forward, if I were to pick any part of the travel industry, the cruise industry’s going to have some great deals out there eventually,” said Mr. de L’Arbre.
While hotels and restaurants remain closed in the area, those eager to take a trip as soon as emergency orders are lifted won’t have to look far, especially if they are still wary of international travel.
“If somebody wanted to do a great weekend in San Francisco or Los Angeles or Malibu or Santa Barbara, for that matter, we’re likely to have some very, very good hotel rates. We have some very good value-add programs where very often we can decrease the price of the hotel, we can add on food and breakfast, we can add on a beverage credit and a room upgrade for four and a half and five star hotels,” said Mr. de L’Arbre.
However, Mr. de L’Arbre echoed the feelings of other agents in the industry, and said it’s too soon to tell what will be popular in the coming year, especially internationally. As the industry settles and finds new offerings and deals to encourage travel, it will be up to the public to decide whether they feel comfortable or not taking a vacation.
“Travel is in the DNA of most people,” said Mr. de L’Arbre.
“Everybody’s different. Everybody has a different take on this, and what we do as professionals in our field is be as sensitive to what their needs are, what they’re feeling, and try to craft the best solution for them.”