Dealing with traveler uncertainty on vaccines - Travel Weekly

Dealing with traveler uncertainty on vaccines - Travel Weekly
Jamie Biesiada

Jamie Biesiada

As coronavirus vaccines continue to roll out in the United States, advisors have reported some confusion among clients as to whether they will need the vaccine to travel going forward. While others said clients aren’t yet asking about vaccination requirements, that is likely to change as consumers increasingly look to book travel.

Evidence suggests bookings are on the rise, with agencies citing everything from vaccine rollout, to more general consumer confidence, to pent-up demand and a feeling that the end of the pandemic is nearing.

“Both the concept and the reality of the vaccine rollout is definitely helping to rebuild traveler confidence,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president and owner of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York. “Knowing that there is a vaccine in place for a virus that has disrupted our lives for over a year brings hope to many.”

Related report: Covid vaccines will not move the needle for current travelers
Interest in travel never stopped throughout the pandemic, Wetty said, but her agency has recently seen that interest convert to bookings both for short-term travel and the future. The pace of bookings has increased in recent weeks.

“Whether it is escape travel and they just can’t take it anymore or a deep belief that we have turned the corner with the pandemic,” she said, “bookings have increased.”

Mixed response on vaccines
So far, the industry’s response to whether or not a vaccine will be required to travel has been mixed: Some suppliers have said they will require passengers be vaccinated, some aren’t sure yet and still others haven’t said anything one way or the other.

Jim Strong, president of Dallas-based Strong Travel Services, said there is some confusion among clients about whether they need a vaccine to travel.

Strong believes more cruise lines, especially, will likely require passengers be vaccinated.

“I think it will be imperative for cruise lines to have their guests prove that they’ve been fully vaccinated,” Strong said, noting that passengers on cruises tend to be in closer quarters than, say, guests in a hotel.

The most important thing travel advisors can do while talking to their clients about travel today is inform them.

“I think advisors are empowering clients with the information of what the supplier requires for travel,” said Beth Flowers, vice president of leisure at Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala. “That’s the most important step — making sure clients are comfortable with what is required for the destination or supplier.”

Flexibility in travel planning

At Global Travel Collection in New York, advisors are encouraged to stay current about different Covid-related requirements, president Angie Licea said. The main message to travelers is, “It’s your choice to travel.”

“We can’t tell people to get shots or not get shots,” Licea said. “We can’t tell people it’s safe to travel, it’s not safe to travel. What we have to do is inform them with the facts and then let them make the informed decision. The important part is having the facts — that’s what our advisors bring to the table.”

Licea is preaching flexibility when it comes to travel planning. She encouraged planning multiple scenarios so if, for example, a traveler does not want to get a vaccine but a supplier requires it, they can move on to their next plan. The same would apply if there isn’t enough inventory at one of the traveler’s choices.

Connie Miller, vice president of business development at Montecito Village Travel in Santa Barbara, Calif., said not too many clients are asking questions about vaccines just yet, but it has been an internal discussion at the host agency.

She encouraged agents to address the situation “very matter of factly” with clients if it comes up, talk about the benefits as to why safety protocols are put in place and have alternatives to provide to travelers.

Covid-19 vaccines and their role in travel was also the topic of the first episode of Trade Secrets, a new podcast co-hosted by myself and TravelAge West senior editor Emma Weissmann. We delved into the subject with veteran advisor Sally Black, founder of Vacationkids in Kunkletown, Pa. Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.