Hoteliers and airlines have returned to stringent booking conditions and providing less flexibility for changes as the industry surpasses pre-pandemic travel levels, a panel of experienced luxury travel advisors highlighted at last week’s Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas.
The group also discussed the effect of climate change on where and when people are holidaying, among other topics such as artificial intelligence and its adoption within the industry.
Rebecca Masri, Founder of the tech-savvy private member’s club Little Emperors in the UK said suppliers are a “lot less flexible”.
Masri, whose client is on average 45 years of age, says suppliers are cracking down on cancelling bookings especially around external factors like the pandemic, flight changes or cancellations and weather, compared to 12-18 months ago when flexibility was the name of the game to accommodate travelling guests.
Paul Tumpowsky, Founder and CEO of Skylark said airlines are similarly less flexible with full cancellation or refunds, and echoed the sentiment of Masri, noting clients are needing to adhere to the policies that hoteliers are putting in place.
“We’ve just seen a very busy summer, especially in Europe, and I think clients understand that they have to commit and it’s no longer an option to hold onto reservations and think about them as they get closer,” he said.
Sharyn Kitchener from Mosman Travel and Mary Rossi Travel on Sydney’s north shore in Australia said holiday packages have become far more strict.
“They’re very much 30 days out and it’s non-refundable. Clients have to know that and commit to it and be aware that if they need to cancel they’ve got the right insurance for the right reasons.”
Kitchener said her agencies have noticed a shift where Australian travellers are heading for the end-of-year/Christmas school holiday period.
“There’s a lot more families going to Japan where they are getting much more value for their money, compared to last year where half of Mosman was in Telluride – so that’s been a big change.”
Climate change impact on travel
On the subject of climate change and if that is influencing where people are travelling, Kitchener said this summer holiday season in Europe has been “the longest ever”, starting in May and running through to the end of October.
“I think moving forward, people will think about this year’s weather and maybe think differently on where they’re going to go, or what time they are going to travel to Europe.
Masri said that over the upcoming festive season, her agency has seen a large increase in demand for destinations like Norway, Denmark and the “fjords” which are out of the normal. As well as the Alps.
“We’ve definitely acknowledged the change due to the changing climate that we’re experiencing in the world”.
“With Europe being so hot, people are looking for cooler destinations, giving a big opportunity for the Nordics to step forward as a summer destination, more so than parts of Europe.
“We struggled immensely this summer with availability in Sardinia, Greek Islands,” Masri said, saying her clientele being young families, many with babies, don’t want to travel where its 48 degrees – “it’s just not pleasant. And when they are within cancellation policy periods, they can’t come out of those bookings.”
While on the Alps, she said the destination was becoming “really popular for summer, whereas traditionally we’d always booked it for ski and Christmas and now there’s no snow anymore for Christmas.”
Jamshedpur Pocha, Co-Founder, Pelican Club in Canada reiterated the trend, saying his private club members, mostly Americans and Canadians, are opting for Switzerland, Austria and Germany “which traditionally haven’t been as popular as Italy, France or Greece in summer.”
“With the summer months and the climate being so much hotter, in those destinations that have amazing spa products and beautiful wilderness destinations, it’s a great opportunity for people,” Pocha said.
He further noted due to demand, traveller are moving their summer travel to the shoulder months of September and October, with September now getting “more and more popular”.
“October is getting a little bit more attention in European destinations, where you wouldn’t expect to be swimming in the Mediterranean in those months normally.”
Tumpowsky said southern Italian hoteliers he’d spoken with at Virtuoso Travel Week had said there was a “fair amount of softness in August” due to the heat, whereas availability in September and October is limited.
“I think there is a lot of potential for people moving their summer [holiday] to even halfway through October,” he said, noting that properties are extending their seasons to capture that audience that is travelling later.
Pocha added that many clients have returned from Europe this season have already started locking in dates for 2024, and multiple trips, “because they want to get into places that have the highest demand, that are in the most popular destinations, whereas in the past these same members would have previously waited to the last minute.”
Lead image: Virtuoso Travel Week’s 2023 panellists – from left: Paul Tumpowsky, Skylark; Sharyn Kitchener, Mosman Travel; Rebecca Masri, Little Emperors and Jamshedpur Pocha, The Pelican Club.