The first conversation I had with a travel industry colleague about COVID-19 came in mid-January 2020—I had bumped into Chris Austin, who was then serving as Seabourn’s executive vice president of global sales, in a busy Manhattan hotel lobby the week of the NY Times Show. Chris had a scheduled trip to Asia at the end of January and was concerned about how a new virus that was starting to circulate would impact his travel.
It was a brief conversation, but one that is still very memorable to me, just because of my own naivete at the time of what COVID-19 would become. I had very little idea of how that story would grow, of how it would impact my hometown of New York, and how it would bring travel to an essential halt a few short weeks later.
The time since that chat, and the year as a whole, now seems like a decade ago. I am, like so many of you, anxious to flip that calendar to 2021 and start a new year, but I still find myself reflecting on the year that was, a year that is going to be impossible to forget.
Talking to so many travel advisors during 2020, it’s difficult not to be humbled by their innovation and their determination to succeed under what’s been, perhaps, the most difficult circumstances since the period after Sept. 11, 2001. So many industry people, from the trade and from the supplier side, spoke to me about how 2020, up until COVID-19, was setting up to be the biggest year in their careers, and that was stopped dead in its tracks by the pandemic.
Still, advisors found ways to succeed. They found ways to communicate with their clients, they found ways to market safe vacations to those who wanted to take them, and they found ways to pivot their businesses to survive in hopes of a major 2021 rebound, a year that is expected to see the largest pent-up travel demand in a century.
It’s also difficult not to be embarrassed by a lack of support for the industry, which supported employment for one in every 10 Americans pre-pandemic.
ASTA’s and ACTA’s push to get specific travel advisor relief into their respective country’s COVID-19 relief packages were extraordinary wins for both those organizations and for the industry, but the lack of movement on additional relief here in the U.S. has to be considered one of the biggest government failures of the pandemic period. The industry needs support to be able to continue having the same economic impact it had pre-pandemic, and here’s hoping there’s some kind of agreement before the end of the year.
At TMR, we were forced to pivot just like all of you. We were very lucky to be able to see all of Canadian advisors and suppliers who came out to Travel MarketPlace in February in Vancouver, just weeks before borders were shut, but the impact of COVID-19 forced us to cancel our Toronto show in June, something that we circle on our calendars every year. We’re very much hoping to see you all in Toronto in 2021 and we promise we’re going to make every effort to be there.
We also went virtual, like so many of you. During my last MasterAdvisor session of the year, I gave my sincere thanks to all who helped make our virtual series such a highlight of my year and I wanted to repeat that there. I can’t thank you, along with Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel, a TMR board who served as the first guest on the show and a co-host during the summer, enough. And I cannot wait to see you all again on ZOOM in 2021.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty for 2021. Nobody has a crystal ball as to what’s going to happen in the coming months, but there’s hopeful signs on the horizon. This week, the U.S. saw the first vaccinations of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, with another vaccine candidate, Moderna, expected to score FDA approval this week, as well. While bad news is still an almost certainty, there’s even more good news on the horizon, and we should all be thankful for that.
The COVID-19 story won’t end in 2020. It will, most likely, still be the biggest story for our industry in 2020, but I’m hopeful and optimistic that the story in 2021 will be of how travel recovered and accelerated out of the pandemic, and how the industry’s reinvention not only got more people traveling, but also changed the way advisors operate, making them an even more critical in the travel distribution system.
Whatever your plans are over the holidays, I wish you a very festive and healthy end of the year. Here’s to 2021.