On a quarterly basis, Jim Schultenover of Strategic Solution Partners and JDS Hospitality surveys travel agencies to get a sense of trends and topics that the hospitality industry should be paying attention to.  Our most recent survey, completed in May 2021, had 279 responses, comprised mostly of travel advisors from small- and medium-sized agencies. 

The results and verbatim comments provide insights into how travelers are making plans and what is most important to them as we transition from pandemic lock-down to cautious re-entry.  As always, there is value here for business planning, hotel property owner reviews, and idea stimulation.

While perhaps not academic or scientific, this survey reaches a segment of travel agencies that is often challenging to target, small to medium sized agencies.  In addition to questions specific to hotels and resorts, we asked about Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), vacation rentals, cruises, and drive-marketing travel.

Travel Agency Results Highlights

1.  Short, mid-range and long-term bookings are for real. 

While many travel advisors noted that they were handling trips with short lead-times, travel timing is both short- and long-term.

  • 53.6% of TAs are booking for Q3 2021
  • 65.6% are booking for Q4 2021
  • 82.2% are booking for all quarters of 2022

2.  Domestic travel is still most popular

But international is starting to reemerge! The Caribbean, Mexico and Europe are the top markets after the United States.

  • 74.3% of TAs are booking US
  • 69.9% of TAs are booking Caribbean
  • 60.1% of TAs are booking Mexico
  • 54.7% of TAs are booking Europe

Also, 19.8% of travel advisors are regularly assisting with drive market trips.

3.  Substitutes for Cruising

With travelers split on whether cruises feel safe, 29% of TAs report that they are looking for substitutes to cruising.  This creates more opportunity for resorts and top destinations.

4.  Vacation Rentals

While travelers have expressed growing interest in vacation rentals over the pandemic period, travel advisors are not sold.

Travel advisors say that they will book vacation rentals only if they offer:

  • Commissions to TAs
  • Proven reputation
  • Vetting of properties
  • Personal relationships with managers (of properties)

Some of the negatives TAs mentioned regarding vacation rentals are:

  • Complicated or incompatible booking systems
  • Not standardized enough
  • Lacking customer service and contacts if something goes wrong
  • Unattractive cancellation policies

5.  Value of DMOs

Destination Marketing Organizations are used with a frequency which may create joint promotion opportunities.  While TAs don’t always use DMOs or CVBs, these destination-specific organizations are engaged 31.3% of the time, which may indicate an area of opportunity and expanded marketing for destinations.

6.  Overall Sentiment

Most TA observations are positive and encouraging about the rebound of travel.  One said it succinctly, “People are ready to travel. They are planning longer stays, upgrading and spending more money.”

Some other observations in the verbatim comments for travel advisors:

  • Clients are booking with shorter lead times
  • Clients are continuing to request more detailed questions about cleaning and sanitation practices at hotels
  • Clients are expressing frustration and a backlash against call centers and OTAs (based on experiences during the pandemic)
  • Clients are booking longer lengths of stay
  • Clients are tired of waiting, and more exotic, “bucket list”-type trips are moving to the forefront

All in all, our most recent travel advisor survey gives us hope that our industry is ready to go from survival to revival!  To see the full survey and all results, click here.