After a 2020 that devastated travel industry jobs and incomes, the question on everyone’s mind is when will we get them back? Courier spoke with Bryan Del Monte, president of The Aviation Agency, a marketing and communication firm specializing in aviation, avionics, and aerospace companies. His ideas about travel and tourism’s rebound in his sector apply also to the packaged-travel economy.
What will it take for travel to resume to pre-2020 levels?
The ability to travel is inextricably linked to resolving the pandemic, both in the U.S. and in the rest of the developed world. Instrumental to that is the rate of adoption of the vaccine by individuals. The extent to which people become vaccinated is going to drive the discussion. There is a pent-up demand for travel, and you see that in advanced bookings at the end of 2020 and the start of 2021. But people have to feel safe about getting there and being in the destination.
Does that mean that vaccines should be mandated?
There is federal involvement in all other aspects of travel and hospitality, and I expect we’ll see national standards about vaccinations for travel. It’s a public health issue and a governmental activity. I expect we’ll see national standards for travel, which is correct. I don’t think Delta Air Lines and Hilton Hotels should figure that out on their own. Pandemics are national security risks, and we should develop an infrastructure to deal with them. The vaccine is the best way to go at it, because it doesn’t require people to do anything other than act in their own self-interest. Vaccines are the cleanest, fastest, and cheapest way to get back to normal.
How do you see the recovery rolling out?
If we can deliver 100 or 200 million vaccinations by June, then the third quarter can be pretty bright for travel. Not a return to normal, but not 30% of normal either. It’s all tied to resolving the pandemic and reducing the rates of transmission. Vaccines are our best tool to get the pandemic under control.
Before the pandemic is under control, how much should we rely on testing?
For widespread testing to be useful, we have to solve the reliability of the tests. We also have to resolve the predictive nature of the test. Unless we can increase the reliability and sensitivity of testing, widespread testing probably isn’t useful. But if we do those things, it should be a governmental activity. To restrict an individual’s right to travel, you have to meet a high standard of the law. You have to show it’s a state interest. And if you’re going to require a test, it had better work—and it must work in a time frame that allows us to make rational decisions quickly.
What about people who can’t—or won’t—take the vaccine?
This is why it needs to be a political process that results in a law, or else you’ll get ad hoc discriminatory behavior. We can’t have some employers and some airlines requiring vaccines and others not. You can get some wicked outcomes of discrimination. I think for a period of time, it’s legitimate for the government to say you can’t travel if you haven’t been vaccinated. If it’s a political process, [citizens] can have input. These should not be controversial ideas. For example, most colleges require a health examination upon entrance, and you must prove evidence of vaccinations. We’ll just add coronavirus to the list.
What advice do you have for tourism professionals as they work together to get people back on the road and in the air?
The entire industry will have to do something it hasn’t done in 40 years—and I know this will sound self-serving—but they have to advertise and market. You have to remind people of the benefits of travel and communicate why it will be safe if we take the right measures. The demand is out there, so you have to create desire. After it becomes safe, the question won’t be why travel, but it’ll be why travel to your destination or with your company. That’s all driven by advertising and marketing. It’s good advice because it’s actually the solution for the problem—whatever the business. When you look at economic collapses in history, the companies that remained committed to advertising were the ones that came out of it the best.
And is now the time?
Last spring, there was no point in advertising travel if people were impeded from it. But as that changes, you’ll need to market and advertise. If you don’t, it’s like the old joke: You’re winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does. If you’re not pushing yourself and your product, you’re going to miss out on the deluge when people start traveling again. The industry will need to do a lot of reputation building and outreach, and they have to communicate in ways they haven’t had to in several years.
What about further down the road, after vaccinations take hold?
We will still be shell-shocked for a long time. Most everyone in America has either had coronavirus or they know someone who did. And we’ve all had direct experience with the economic and sociological effects of it. So I don’t think airlines and hotels will stop sterilizing and cleaning. Travelers won’t accept that. Will we stop wearing masks by the end of the year? Probably not. But in two years? Probably so.
How big of a bounce-back will the travel industry see?
The challenge for the hospitality and travel industry in 2020 was, effectively, the legal prohibition against the sale of your product. Get the pandemic under control, and it’ll be a race for the money of travelers. Cruises will bounce back, hotels will bounce back, and people will travel within the United States and to other countries. The pandemic will have that you-only-live-once effect on a lot of people, and there will be a boom in travel. We should make sure we’re up on our surfboards, because trust me, that tsunami is coming.
For more information about The Aviation Agency, visit theaviationagency.com.
Top photo: ©Andrew Bayda/Adobe Stock