As most industry professionals began talking about the bright future of travel in the brand-new world, another unwelcomed guest came along: the Delta variant has somewhat dimmed hopes as the planet started battling an even more highly contagious strain of the disease. Despite the challenges though, the consumer sentiment remained quite positive, possibly owing to such phenomena as “news fatigue” and general love for travel that proved resilient enough even in the face of a global menace. Perhaps, it is time to take stock and discover how Delta has (or has not) impacted the travel industry.
In what is easily the industry’s worst downturn since the Ice Age halted pre-historic mobility, the World Travel & Tourism Council reported an overall loss last year of $4.5 trillion in receipts with travel’s contribution to global GDP dropping 49.1%. For some regions, the new restrictions will not change much. For example, Australia has been closed to Americans for over a year and there are no opening plans until mid-2022, according to Chris Allison, head of commercial partnerships for the Americas at Tourism Australia.
For others, the spread of delta did make a difference. Israel has once again broken the news of closing borders after the country reopened for small tourist groups in May. The general outlook remains quite positive though. For instance, Chris Austin, chief sales officer of the new luxury cruise line Explora Journeys, says it garnered $1 million of pre-sales in the first week it opened its waitlist, even though the initial voyage isn’t until 2023.
Looking elsewhere geographically, Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, says 2022 bookings are running 200% ahead of 2019, the tour company’s best year, with Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Botswana emerging as top sellers. Group travel is up significantly with extended families and groups of friends buying out departures, creating their own bubbles. However, the final numbers will most likely stand at 90% of the 2019 levels, as people tend to book and cancel reacting to news and general market and economic volatility.
Another crucial issue that is being taken into consideration by travelers is staff vaccination status. For example, Dondra Ritzenhaler, senior vice president of sales for Celebrity Cruises, says having 100% of the crew vaccinated resonates with consumers. The company is now happy to see a similar percentage of first-time cruisers as prior to the pandemic.
Overall, it seems that the impact of the Delta variant was somewhat mitigated by the genuine demand for travel from the consumers’ side. While it is still unclear, how exactly the strain will affect various regions, the world is already somewhat ready for the hit, which means that, in theory, it should be easier to manage its negative consequences.