With pandemic restrictions in the rear-view mirror (hopefully), travel bookings are up everywhere--on escorted coach tours, airline flights, and hotels. According to Nikola Berube, director of sales at AMA Travel, there's a dramatic increase in bookings, up from pandemic-restricted times, and--because of the minefield of changing restrictions from country to country--an increase of up to 30 per cent for consumers using a travel agent/counsellor to arrange and confirm travel.
"In my 33 years in the industry, I haven't seen this big of a comeback story," said Berube, pointing to huge demand for coach tours, cruises and all-inclusive vacations to sunshine destinations. "Some people are planning well ahead for cruises or bucket-list holidays to Greece, Egypt, Africa; while others are taking advantage of shorter, last-minute getaways to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico. There's also a renewed interest in the 'on the ground experience', so people are keen on coach tours and using local guides at a destination.
Trip bookings have returned to pre-COVID levels, according to a new AMA survey, which finds eight in 10 people will travel within the next 12 months. Seven in 10 Albertans say they feel good about travelling within Canada again, while 49% are ready to go on international trips. But COVID remains a concern among many, with 42% of respondents saying it will influence where they choose to visit.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what travel will look like—and it will be different for everyone,” said Berube. “People are moving from hesitation to anticipation, so they want to feel confident about making plans in the face of an ever-changing landscape.”
The survey showed Albertans expect to spend $3,096 on leisure trips within the next 12 months. Among international destinations, the most popular are the U.S., Europe and Mexico. Potential travellers say their motivations include relaxation, exploration, experiencing different cultures and connecting with family and friends.
One in five Albertans (21%) expect to use a travel agent to plan a future trip, with the top reasons being: reducing the time and hassle of research, getting help if something goes wrong, and enjoying peace of mind.
“More than ever, people want to feel like someone has their back before, during and after their vacation,” said Berube. “Travel agents have become critical translators of complex government advisories, health requirements and insurance policies. We want people to feel secure about exploring the world again.”
Experts remind that no matter where you plan to travel, make sure to check the government Travel Advice and Advisories page for your destination twice: once when you are planning your trip, and again shortly before you leave.
"COVID isn't going away, so we need to learn how to live and travel with it; to navigate restrictions," she added. "Boomers continue to be the largest travel segment, but we see a lot of business with millennials too. Our job is to help all travel safely and confidently."
Pent-up demand from two years of a travel standstill, or those tired of the 'staycation', are part of the surge in airplane travel and bookings to sunny locales, Berube adds. "And cruising, the hardest and earliest hit from the pandemic, is the earliest to return too. The cruising industry, smaller, luxury river ships that are less crowded, but also the 'floating cities' with 6,000 people--are in demand again."
Berube says even though international travel is back on the front-burner for many, Albertans have an appreciation for travel within their own province and country that started during periods of lockdown.
"Local travel--road trips or close-to-home getaways remain popular, and Albertans definitely support local," Berube added. "One of the blessings of the pandemic is Albertans have been able to explore new parts of the province, from historical sites to the mountains to smaller cities and hidden gems. We've got lots of travel ideas at amatravel.ca/articles."