New Deal Europe Tourism Restart Summit 2021
Pent up demand, booking surges, successful vaccination roll outs and high personal savings are all contributing to the UK and US markets being the primary focus for the tourism restart, according to speakers at New Deal Europe’s Destination and Media Summit this week.
Tourism boards in the Balkans region were invited to a ‘meet the media’ session to hear from senior travel journalists about consumer sentiment in the source markets and the preparedness of the destinations to receive visitors.
Robert Dee, co-founder of New Deal Europe, introduced the session with a call to tourism boards to update their marketing plans to take account of recent developments. He stated that these plans were formulated in 2020 as countries were entering the second wave of the pandemic, and were based on their results in 2020, which were driven by domestic tourism and visitors from neighbouring countries. However the vaccination success in the US and in particular the UK, which has seen one third of the population vaccinated, principally in the over 55’s who are time and money rich with a high propensity for travel, should now be the focus of everyone’s attention. Flights are opening up, new routes are announced almost daily to destinations which have said they will welcome British visitors and each new positive announcement leads to a surge in bookings, so he asked if there was a disconnect between plans and current reality.
His analysis was given weight by two speakers from the UK, Katie McGonagle, Features and Supplements Editor of Travel Weekly UK, and Lee Hayhurst, editor of Travolution, who both reiterated how positive news is driving demand. McGonagle gave a detailed overview of the UK Government’s ‘Roadway Out of Lockdown’ which itself resulted in a spike in holiday bookings as soon as it was announced on 22nd February. She highlighted 12th April as a key date as this is when some accommodation units can reopen and when the Travel Taskforce reports to the government on progress and, it is hoped, will confirm 17th May as the day that travel abroad can resume.
“What we are seeing is that a little bit of certainty leads to a lot more interest, and countries like Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Spain and Portugal, who are keen to accept British Travellers with a vaccine or a test certificate, help to reinforce confidence in the UK” she said. “Consumer sentiment moves very quickly at the moment, and there is a real opportunity for the Balkan region as people may not be able to get to their usual destination. It can get better known in the UK market, as it is still relatively undiscovered.”
She encouraged Tourism boards to engage with the travel media and with travel agents, who lack product knowledge on the region but are able to still do training during furlough. She cited figures showing that 49% of people aged over 50 are planning to use a travel agent this year, compared with 36% who did so in 2020, as evidence that fighting for refunds for cancelled travel last year has driven the consumer towards booking through agents.
Indeed bookings have already started and 21% of bookings made in the first week of March are for June, July and August this year, while 49% of bookings are for 2022 and 2023. McGonagle advised “there is absolutely an opportunity to capture that market, get people in over the Summer, but also take a slightly longer term view and look ahead to 2022 and 2023.” The New Deal Europe Marketplace on 12th April is perfectly placed to capture all of these business opportunities, Dee reminded everyone.
Daniel McCarthy, editor in chief of New York based Travel Market Report said that he is seeing a lot of the same things in the USA, with optimism coming into the market in the last few weeks driven by a positive economic situation and a successful vaccination roll out. The first vaccine roll out has gone “better than anyone expected, averaging more than two million doses a day, more than double what we were hoping for” he said. Added to this, Americans have more money in savings than ever before, with $3.9 trillion in savings compared to $1.38 trillion prior to the pandemic, according to a recent American Express report. McCarthy said that these rainy day funds will be used for travel and experiences.
The same AmEx report also indicated that 80% of leisure travellers want to travel in 2021, and his expectation is that travel will restart very quickly domestically as states relax rules. International travel will restart as people get used to providing proof of vaccination at airports, he claimned. He also made it clear that leisure travellers will drive the tourism restart and it will take a long time for business travellers to get back to previous numbers. He advised that the bucket list trips are seeing a renaissance, with cruises selling out almost immediately they are on sale, and he put the Balkans region in this bucket list category, highlighting an opportunity for the region from the US market.
The receiving destinations were represented by Spiros Gianiotis, Director and Editor of Hellenic Travelling from Greece, and Goran Rihelj, founder of HRTurizam in Croatia. Gianiotis referred to the recent ITB trade fair where the Greek Minister of Tourism announced that Greece will be opening its doors for tourism on 14th May, and said that “we’re trying to vaccinate a large portion of the population so that they can trust us, and come and have a safe vacation.” He too reported that a lot of flights are planned and the travel industry in Greece had already started preparing hotels and restaurants to welcome guests. According to Gianiotis, on some small islands, the entire population has already been vaccinated, so these will be ready to receive thousands of holidaymakers this summer. Rihelj advised that in 2020 Croatia’s tourism was 50% of the record numbers from 2019, and that they were hoping for 2021 to be 10% better than last year. He reminded the audience that tourism accounts for 20% of GDP in Croatia so “we will do everything we can vis a vis safety.” He outlined that the primary markets for Croatia are European countries who travel to Croatia by car, but that the UK, the USA and Israel are now the primary focus. Robert Dee concluded by reminding the tourism boards that over 50% of all the buyer delegates to the New Deal Europe marketplace on 12th April come from these three source markets, and that they should register for the event before the closing deadline on 31st March.