2022 might have started off with omicron complicating travel plans. But when it comes to the general state of travel in 2022, even in the face of new COVID-19 variants, tour operators and travel management companies don’t seem to be too worried. We tapped our Safe Travel Partners to find out why.
When the world first learned of the omicron variant — with its troublesome mutations and a host of unknowns — the travel industry braced itself for yet another blow.
Beyond upending holiday travel plans, the variant has not been as serious as was originally feared nor is it having as large of an impact on people’s feelings about taking trips. According to the Global Rescue Traveler Sentiment and Safety survey, which polled travelers from all over the world in late January, nine out of 10 travelers are “much less or less” concerned about travel since the pandemic. That’s a 22% increase in travel confidence since the summer of 2021, despite the emergence of the delta and omicron COVID variants.
“Thankfully, the fears of omicron left just as quickly as they appeared,” said Jenna Chase, director of operations for Ubuntu Travel, a travel agency specializing in luxury, bespoke African safari tours. “As the variant has proved to be quite mild, we’re happy to see travel confidence returning and guests eager to get out and travel the world.”
She’s not exaggerating. The family-run travel company reported that January was their biggest month in secured sales (collected deposits for future bookings) since their founding in 2017. Other Global Rescue Safe Travel Partners are also seeing record-breaking bookings.
Which begs the question: Even as we face the possibility of future variants circling the globe, what is keeping this travel confidence so steadfastly rising?
Pandemic Fatigue Outweighs Fear
Photo courtesy of Ubuntu Travel
We’ve been dealing with the pandemic for two years now. When lockdowns eased and borders re-opened in the first year, much of the world was still putting off travel. But today, even amid fluctuating border restrictions and ever-present tricky travel requirements, travelers just aren’t waiting as much. That’s owed to the prevalence of vaccinations and boosters. But it’s also a product of pent-up demand to travel. According to a CNBC article, “wanderlust eclipses hesitation fueled by the omicron and delta virus variants.”
“They’re just so tired of being locked up and ready to get out,” said Todd Rogers of Four Points Adventures, a travel company providing guided, safari-style overland tours throughout the remote and dramatic landscapes of the western U.S. “Maybe a year ago, they would put off trips until a later date. But now, people are more determined than ever to make these trips happen, despite travel complications COVID-19 puts forth.”
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His proof? The last quarter of 2021 was his best quarter for bookings to date, particularly with bigger groups looking to experience the phenomenon of the vehicle-based, on-road and off-road, adventure travel activity. “I’m pretty much booked for two months solid in the spring, with less than a day between trips,” he said. “I’m very happy right now. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Kjeld Schigt of Costa Rica’s Kalon Surf agrees the desire to travel outweighs fears surrounding omicron or any future variants.
“It might hinder travelers for a brief moment, but the fear is short-lived,” said the owner and director of the luxury surf camp that calls the remote Osa Peninsula home. “In terms of our guests, they’ve already made the choice to travel, to explore again, to get back with nature or escape where they’re coming from. People are taking COVID-19, factoring it in and continuing to travel.”
Travel Companies Have Perfected Peace of Mind
There’s been a silver lining for travel during the pandemic: The advent of more flexible policies, allowing travelers to cancel a trip and feel confident they won’t be hit with hefty fees.
Several of Ubuntu Travel’s clients had to reschedule their December trips because of omicron. Not because it was fear-based, but because flights were canceled last-minute by overwhelmed airlines.
“We have been very pleased with the flexibility offered by our lodge and operating partners in Africa, who have been helpful in rescheduling many trips since the start of the pandemic,” she said. “Of course, each trip is unique and needs to be evaluated on an individual basis, but, in most cases, we can reassure guests if they are unable to travel due to a number of COVID-related reasons, we can assist in rescheduling travel for future dates.”
What also seems to be important is loud and clear communication around safety measures.
“We explain to potential guests the setup of our hotel,” said Schigt of Kalon Surf. “It’s open-air, there’s a lot of air-flow, you’re in the mountains beside the ocean, there is a lot of sun. Overall, this is a very healthy environment. This is the kind of place you want to be right now.”
Chase echoes this sentiment. “Africa offers a perfect environment for those looking for a natural distancing situation. People have often told us after their trip ‘I felt safer in Africa than I did at home.’”
Wide-Open Spaces Are Plentiful
According to the Global Rescue survey, destination preferences continue to lean toward out-of-the-way places in the open air with fewer people. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) are planning more outdoor, remote travel — a 40% increase compared to traveler responses nearly a year ago.
But a safari in Africa and a surf lodge on the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica are far from the only wide-open places where people can feel safe.
“Belize is a small country without crowds,” said Polly Alford of Choose Belize, a booking site and travel company specializing in personalized vacations to the country with one foot in the Central American jungles and the other in the Caribbean Sea. “There are many island locations, which, of course, means total isolation.”
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She attributes Belize’s lack of crowds as part of why her bookings have been through the roof. So much so, at the SCI (Safari Club International) Annual Convention in mid-January, Choose Belize’s booth was one of the busiest. “We sold so many trips,” she said. “We’re completely booked for June and July and November and December in 2022. Then we’re almost totally booked for January, February and March in 2023.”
Rogers of Four Points Adventures knows the remote destinations and open-air nature of overlanding has led more travelers to embrace the self-reliant mode of adventure travel during the pandemic. “Staying in a hotel still makes people nervous. But when the space you’re occupying during the trip is your own vehicle, of course you’re going to be more comfortable. For my tours, I provide all the camping gear, toilet, chuck wagon, chefs and meals, but it’s all within the group bubble.”
COVID-19 Services Only Add to Confidence
“‘What if I get COVID?’ is a top question we get when fielding inquiries,” said Chase of Ubuntu Travel. “Travelers want to know what to expect and what they need to do if it happens to them. We tell them we partner with Global Rescue and to add a membership to their travel checklist for that very reason.”
That’s because in an increasingly challenging world, Global Rescue makes travel possible. Unlike our competitors, we don’t treat COVID-19 differently from other infectious diseases with respect to how we operate: Our same services still apply, from advisory to evacuation.
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