The one-year anniversary of COVID-19 reaching and impacting life in North America came and went this month, bringing with it time to reflect on all that was lost the last year.
Now, a year out from the initial wave of infections in North Americas, things are starting to improve.
In the U.S., as of March 15, more than 21% of the population has already gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with almost 12% of the population already fully inoculated against the virus. More good news came last week when President Joe Biden announced that the federal government would make vaccines available to all adults, regardless of age or risk level, starting on May 1.
In Canada, more than 4 million doses have been delivered among its provinces, with 75% of those doses administered. While Canada is lagging behind the U.S. in terms of vaccinations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that every Canadian should be able to get a vaccine by September, setting the stage for a travel rebound starting next fall.
As more and more of the population gets vaccinated, the timeline for returning to some kind of everyday life that the pre-pandemic world provided is starting to take shape. And, for the travel industry, that means the return of in-person events, including conferences, FAM trips, site inspections, and more events that had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.
When TMR asked advisors whether now was the time to start safely gathering in-person with their colleagues and friends in the industry, the answer was an overwhelming “yes.”
“Yes, I am ready for in-person events now that vaccine distribution is making people feel safer,” Sherry Jenkins, the owner of Lancaster’s Jenkins Travel told TMR.
Jenkins’ last in-person event was a meeting with the Antigua tourist board with colleagues before COVID's start.
“I remember talking about this thing called COVID and questioning what it may do to our industry,” she said. “I did not have any idea what we were in for.”
For Jenkins, who said that she is most looking forward to seeing her friends within the travel industry, in-person provides the kind of connection that you cannot replace.
“I think the in-person events help with the personal connection and it is nice to know who you are dealing with,” she said.
Susan Peavey, the owner of Susan Peavey Travel in Marshfield, Mass., told TMR that before COVID, she was attending at least two in-person events per month. She said the last pre-COVID event that she was able to attend was an award show in New York City in February 2020.
The event was filled with talk of high expectations for 2020 “as the year started out to be the best in business for me and others,” she said. The absence of events in 2020 has prevented her from doing several things that drive business, including connecting with suppliers.
“I think going to events is the way we build our relationships with our suppliers,” she said. “We get to talk about what is going on with new products.”
Peavey, who holds her own travel show in March that she had to cancel for the second straight year this month, also told TMR that she believes it is time to return to in-person events.
“Yes, I miss being with my colleagues and mentors in the industry,” she said, who added why she is so bullish on the travel industry moving forward.
“I believe that the travel industry is going to come back fast and furious we have already seen it the past couple of weeks,” Peavey added. “We have had more inquiries from guests who have always booked online and after their experience from last year would prefer an agent to reserve their vacations. I also feel that agents are also willing to help one another to keep bookings from going to the OTA’s if we are stronger our industry will be stronger.
Michele Cartwright, president and travel advisor at Destinations by Design in Columbia, S.C., told TMR that she believes a return to in-person events mirrors what the rest of the public has already started.
“As we continue to debate this topic, the public increasingly goes to work, shops in malls and grocery stores, dines at restaurants, etc. all while the travel industry is crushed by the pressure to remain dormant,” she said.
“It is time to start meeting in-person at conferences and FAMS so we may retaliate against the virus and begin earning a living again. Vaccinations for essential workers and high-risk individuals with co-morbidities increase daily and will prove to provide an additional safety net among other COVID-19 protocols already in place. It’s time to change the dialog to WHAT events are being planned.”
To help deal with that question, TMR has put together an industry calendar for suppliers and advisors to use when scheduling. That calendar can be found here.