Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort on May 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.

Handout | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

The Covid pandemic made the past 14 months a literal roller coaster of a ride for both theme parks and their fans.

Parks shut down or didn’t open at all last spring, and although some did reopen by summer, it was with strict capacity limits and stringent health and safety measures that put off some customers and definitely dented the fun factor for others.

Here’s a look at how things are shaping up in 2021 for this part of the travel and tourism sector, and how prospective visitors can make the most out a theme park vacation as the pandemic winds down.

Pre-pandemic, things had been going well for the sector. The top 20 North American theme parks drew 159,108,000 visitors in 2019, 1% more than the year before, according to the 2019 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.

To draw even more visitors, park operators were rolling profits back into much-hyped, big-budget new attractions like the Jurassic World Velocicoaster at Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure in Florida and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.

More from Personal Finance:
What visiting a theme park was like amid the pandemic
How travelers could benefit from hotel industry struggles
What to expect as live music events take to the stage again

People haven’t forgotten those debuts were in the pipeline.

“A lot of families are opting into going to theme parks this year,” said Trish Smith, a Kansas City, Missouri-based travel advisor affiliated with the InteleTravel network of home-based agents. “I’ve actually had more bookings at this point this year than I did in 2019.

“There are so many new attractions coming that a lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to miss out on that, and I want to be the first,'” she added.

Demand is especially pent-up in California, where parks didn’t reopen until this April.

In fact, Michael Erstad, senior analyst, consumer for research firm M Science, said theme parks could see a return to former attendance levels as soon as next year. “I certainly think it’s a possibility,” he said. “It will all depend how things go with the virus for the rest of the year.

“I wouldn’t count [a rebound] out.”

Consumer data insights firm Cardify has found, unsurprisingly, that theme parks saw a big drop in consumer spending last year but “were able to recover a bit” by last summer by reopening with capacity restrictions. Now that cities and states are relaxing pandemic restrictions, parks are seeing what Cardify terms the “silver lining” for park operators — a new “sharp increase” in spending.

Cardify also found in a survey of 1,044 consumers that 72% are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, more so than movie theaters (68%) or bars and clubs (67%). Only

Luxe-adventure Cruise Brand Unveils New Master of Bucket-list Destinations for Travel Advisors

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — New luxe-adventure cruise brand, Atlas Ocean Voyages, always values Travel Advisors’ important role in supporting the cruise and travel industry. Kicking off Travel Advisor Appreciation Month throughout May, Atlas is deploying a video from President Alberto Aliberti and Senior Vice President of Business Development Carlos Garzon, thanking Travel Advisors and recognizing the brand’s important partners. In conjunction with the month’s theme, Atlas is launching its new Master of Bucket-list Destinations professional development program on the brand’s online portal, Atlas Advisor Central. Travel Advisors automatically qualify for special FAM fares after completing of the first course and can earn up to $200-bonus commission on their first new booking after completing both courses. Additionally, Atlas will include a special Travel Agent Appreciation logo throughout the month and promote Travel Advisors in all the cruise brand’s trade and consumer marketing. Atlas’ Travel Advisors Appreciation campaign begins May 1, and the new Master of Bucket-list Destinations course is live on May 3.

Atlas Ocean Voyages' logo (PRNewsfoto/Atlas Ocean Voyages)

Atlas Ocean Voyages’ logo (PRNewsfoto/Atlas Ocean Voyages)

“Atlas sincerely appreciates Travel Advisors and recommends all travelers work with a Travel Advisor,” said Carlos. “Our new Master of Bucket-list Destinations program provides our valued travel advisor partners with important information and resources to help them market and sell Atlas’ once-in-a-lifetime experiences to clients who seek an extraordinary return-to-cruise. While we spotlight the importance of Travel Advisors throughout this month, Atlas appreciates Travel Advisors every day of the year.”

‘At Last… Atlas!’ is the first of two courses that comprise Atlas’ new Master of Bucket-list Destinations program. Master of bucket-list Destinations is aimed at educating Travel Advisors about the remote and bucket-list destinations where Atlas sails and helping them become better overall destination sellers. The new four-chapter module starts with a brand overview, followed by identifying and selling to the luxe-adventure traveler. The third chapter provides a competitive review of the luxury cruising sector, with the final chapter rounding out with a deeper dive into each 2021-22 World Navigator itinerary. Travel Advisors will receive a Certificate of Expertise and a $100 bonus commission when they make a new deposited booking within 45 days of completing each course.

To celebrate Travel Advisors’ indispensable role throughout Travel Advisor Appreciation Month, Atlas Ocean Voyages will emblazon an Atlas Appreciates Travel Advisors, Today and Always logo on all trade communications, such as invoices, emails, and social media posts. Atlas will also greet Travel Advisors with a message of gratitude when they call Atlas’ dedicated Travel Advisor service line. The luxe-adventure brand will also promote working with a Travel Advisor in consumer and trade magazine advertisements and prominently maintain, on the brand’s homepage, a Travel Advisor Appreciation feature image, which recommends working with a Travel Advisor.

Atlas Advisor Central provides Travel Advisors with all the latest information and offers, brand experience, protocols and policies, archived webinars, and downloadable media to empower them

Travel advisors have changed the way they are working following the COVID-19 pandemic. New research from host agency Travel Experts finds that more advisors are charging fees and encouraging clients to purchase travel insurance.

Renee Taylor of Renee Taylor Travel in Searcy, Arkansas, said that it was a difficult decision to start charging for services.

ADVERTISING

“Deciding that it was time to start charging fees after 15 years of no fees was very difficult, but it was something that I have wanted to do for quite some time,” said Taylor. “I enlisted the help of a colleague and came up with a fee structure that would make me feel comfortable in presenting fees to my long-time existing clients as well new clients. Most of my clients were very receptive and even commented that they have wondered why I waited this long to charge for my services.”

Eileen Anderson of Journeys Afar, Raleigh, North Carolina, noted that this past year reminded her that her expertise has value.

“I’ve actually had clients tell me they don’t expect me to work for free, they appreciate my knowledge, connections and efficiency. but a few whose planning fees were waived in the past have faded away,” said Anderson. “Upside: more time available for those seriously interested in trip design collaboration.”

Ralph Iantosca charged clients fees already but has changed to a subscription model.

“I had to stop and think about my value,” said Iantosca, “and what I actually do and what it is I can bring to the table.”

Iantosca is not the only one who has changed from ad hoc fees to a subscription-based structure.

Jolene Detillion of Your Travel Designer in Seattle, Washington, said: “We are eliminating ad hoc fees for the majority of our established clientele that travel frequently on an annual basis and we rolled out Annual Travel Subscriptions, that start at $2,500 for a family of four. It engages clients in the planning process and really captures not just the bigger trips but makes them think of us for all their travel needs.”

Not all advisors have had luck charging fees.

Linda de Sosa of Bucketlist Travel Consulting in Houston, Texas, is still not charging her clients for her services.

“I’m begging the clients to use me for small trips and I don’t want to dis-incentivize that.”

One thing that has become a hot ticket item during the pandemic is travel insurance.

“The pandemic has really boosted the awareness of why travel insurance is so important,” said Kim Steiger of Adventures Beyond Borders in Saint Charles, Minnesota.

Holly Lombardo of Lombardo Travel in Atlanta, Georgia, agreed.

“I am quite direct with clients that in this environment travel insurance is a must,” she said.

Christina Schlegel of Bluetail Travel in Arlington, Virginia, has seen an uptick in those choosing to purchase insurance.

“My mantra has always been, travel insurance is strongly recommended, but optional,” said Schlegel. “I would say 90 percent of my clients now purchase travel insurance. It’s always

In the best of times, travel advisors have relied on Facebook groups for support, advice and the sharing of ideas.

But in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, these groups have become even more vital to agents’ businesses – not to mention their mental health.

ADVERTISING

“If it wasn’t for one very special colleague Facebook group where we can be very open with each other, I swear I’d be looney toons by now,” said Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Planning, an affiliate of Travel Experts. “The moral support has been incredible and a lifeline on those days where I just want to hide under the covers. There’s just something about having the support of those who are going through the exact same thing you are. You know they feel you. You know they get you.”

On a similar note, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic – March 21, 2020 – Sharon Campbell of Bespoke Travel Group launched the private Travel’s Got Talent Facebook group – for “fun and not for business,” she said, adding that the group now has more than 2,600 members.

“The idea and reason why I created this group last year was that I needed an outlet and an escape place from the stress and frustrations that were not COVID- or business-related,” Campbell said. “I needed a group for fun and laughter – even if it was only for five minutes at a time.”

Trending Now

Travel graphic cartoon

The group, she noted, has been a lifesaver of sorts.

“For myself and for many travel advisors, the group has been a welcome escape and kept our sanity throughout the last 12 months that I honestly have to admit have been the most disappointing and frustrating months of my entire 30-year career.”

Holly Lombardo of Holly Lombardo Travel Co., an affiliate of Travel Experts, is part of a Facebook group of Travel Experts agents in the Southeast region of the U.S., which said has served as a lifeline of sorts.

“I could share my feelings of sadness and fear. On days where I may feel down, there is always someone in the group who is having a good day and lifts my spirits that this too shall pass,” she said.

“The biggest contribution this group has made is helping me to keep up with the pitfalls of planning travel in the environment of COVID – from ever-changing entry requirements to client feedback.”

She added that the group has also prompted her to reassess her operations, which “includes terms of service and online secure credit card authorizations for each and every charge.”

Similarly, Lukovic, who considers herself a savvy businesswoman, has “been compelled to take a deeper look at some of my practices, marketing efforts and business structure through conversations I’ve had with other equally (and perhaps even more) savvy business people in the travel industry.”

In Lukovic’s view, it’s imperative to seek out groups targeted to an advisor’s specific needs, business demographics and expectations. “Some of the general groups didn’t

 

ASCENT:

A is for Access to systems, partners, and back-up for advisors and their clients

S is for Support in business development, lead generation and strategic suppliers

C is for Collaboration and a strong sense of community

E is for Elevate: to ensure success in building and maintaining business

N is for Networking: helping advisors build relationships with partners, colleagues and collaborators

T is for Training and Development, with access to the Virtuoso Travel Academy, continual      supplier training, and ongoing professional development including weekly Town Hall zoom calls with Direct Travel’s senior management.

Smith adds that many of the ASCENT components are proven success strategies, including the Dream Away series of virtual events, to which advisors are welcome to invite their clients. “On multiple occasions, we have had a client make a booking with their advisor in the middle of the event,” says Smith.

ASCENT is the right combination of a solid, accessible support system, the latest technology in the industry and the prestige of a great partnership with Virtuoso, the world’s leading luxury travel network, says Brian Robertson, President, Canada West region of Direct Travel.

“We have a marketing team to drive client engagement and generate leads for all advisors; a supplier management team that builds personal relationships with regional and national suppliers; and a leadership team which has strong connections to key decision makers at a global level,” adds Robertson.

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, Dream Vacations/CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. awarded CruiseOne franchisee Addie Edwards and Cruises Inc. independent vacation specialist Debra Duffy with its 2021 Outstanding Performance and Leadership Award (OPAL) for Women.

In addition to paying tribute to women for outstanding performance and leadership, the OPAL award also recognizes them for their activities with community and civic organizations. In 2021, it also celebrated women who overcame the hardships of the pandemic and thrived by revamping their businesses.

ADVERTISING

“2020 was a trying year and these two women found a way to continue giving back to the community and being a beacon of light for others,” said Debbie Fiorino, chief operating officer of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “The OPAL Award celebrates women’s accomplishments and contributions to helping others, and Addie and Deb epitomize what this recognition is all about.”

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Edwards positively impacted her community as a board member of the Believe I Can Academy, a non-profit school for children with special needs, by helping to find a larger facility to accommodate the growing numbers of students unable to attend public schools due to closures from the pandemic.

Among other things, Edwards also served as a caregiver for the 93-year-old philanthropist Betty Lee, a founding member of Creative Women of Pinnacle Peak, which supports charities for women and children in need. “Edwards visited Lee weekly, did her grocery shopping and helped navigate the many constraints involved in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine,” CruiseOne said.

Duffy, who is based in Palisades Park, N.J., is an environmentalist involved with PopCorn Park Zoo, a sanctuary for abused and rescued animals in Forked River, N.J. She is also a volunteer with CoCoRaHS, a group that observes, measures and maps precipitation in their communities.

As a former member of the Palisades Park Environmental Commission, Duffy was named the Bergen County Volunteer of the Year for her work with recycling programs, infrastructure enhancements and planting trees.

Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. are part of World Travel Holdings.

function showComments() { // Custom function called on click (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk')); $( 'show_comments' ).toggleClass('hide', true); }

window.fbAsyncInit = function () { FB.init({ appId: '168042856714623', status: true, cookie: true, xfbml: true, oauth: true }); };

//(function (d) { // var js, id = 'facebook-jssdk'; if (d.getElementById(id)) { return; } // js = d.createElement('script'); js.id = id; js.async = true; // js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js"; // d.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(js); //} (document)); …

Throughout the pandemic, families have been separated from loved ones – and for longer than many would have ever predicted. As a result, once travel resumes full throttle, those separations may very well may translate into a boom for family and multigenerational vacations, much as it did in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Grandparents, especially those in their prime retirement years, have been sitting at home for about a year now – without the distractions of work or virtual schooling – so they are ready to go,” said Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler. “They are also moving the biggest bucket list trips up their list because we all now recognize how precious the gift of travel is and how nothing is certain.”

ADVERTISING

She added, “Going forward, I think multi-gen family trips will continue to grow because we’ve all experienced the loss of quality time extended family members and therefore have a deeper desire to connect in a meaningful way. Family vacations are often the strongest childhood memories that kids have, so what better way to build memories than to travel together?”

Multigenerational travel
Multigenerational travel is expected to take off in 2022. (photo courtesy monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

On a similar note, Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations said that since the onset of the pandemic “family members have lost out on many potential memories and experiences with their loved ones.”

As a result, “VIP has definitely started to see an uptick in terms of new destination weddings, multi-room family vacations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and your everyday friends or social groups,” he said.

“For our groups traveling in the immediate future, we are still hearing a concern from some group elders,” Doncsecz said. “However, many remain consistent that when the vaccinated count increases and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations are reexamined, they will travel.”

Chau is witnessing a blossoming multigenerational trend for 2022. “My bookings for Ireland, Africa and the Caribbean are for multiple multi-gen families traveling together with Grandma and Grandpa – or even Great Grandma and Great Grandpa – leading the charge to gather the whole extended family together,” she said.

David Hartman of Fantastic Endeavors believes families will opt for vacations in North America and such closer-to-home destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico well into 2022.

“I expect the demand for villa vacations to increase as families save money on long haul airfare and invest savings into a longer stay in one house for the entire family,” he said.

Family having fun on the beach together
Family having fun on the beach together (photo via monkeybusinessimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Going forward, Laurence Pinckney of ZenBiz Travel said he thinks vacations to all-inclusive resorts, theme parks and villas, particularly in the U.S., will be hot sellers.

“I really believe when cruises come back they will be huge for the family and multigenerational markets.”

Trending Now

Travel technology, man with airplane and laptop

During the pandemic, Hartman has been booking family and multigenerational trips to Orlando theme parks and all-inclusive resorts in Mexico.

“Requests for Hawaii are finally showing an

Data and anecdotal evidence suggest that the pandemic silver lining many had hoped to see has finally appeared: Consumers, including many who never worked with a travel agent before, are turning to travel advisors as they anticipate resuming vacation plans.

Some consortia have noticed increases in traffic to their websites that house travel advisor profiles and information on connecting to travel professionals. 

Virtuoso said consumer inquiries via Virtuoso.com doubled from June to September 2020, and January saw a 50% increase over December in requests to connect with an advisor. Virtuoso attributed the increase to consumers having more money to travel after skipping 2020 trips, heightened desire to get away from home and an increased appreciation for what travel advisors do for their clients.

Organic traffic to Agent Profiler pages — online profiles that Travel Leaders Group (TLG) advisors can create — has increased, according to TLG chief marketing officer Stephen McGillivray and vice president of marketing Brian Hegarty.

Many have predicted that once consumers feel confident traveling again, they will flock to advisors to help meet pent-up demand.

“We give some credence to that thought,” McGillivray said. “But we think what dominates that uptick in people searching for travel advisors is the fact that travel is more complex right now, and all these things just beg for the use of a travel advisor.”

TLG uses keyword analysis on leads that come through its website to gauge consumer sentiment. In 2019, “cruise,” “Disney” and “Europe” dominated, Hegarty said.

But keyword analysis on more than 12,000 leads TLG has fielded since Jan. 1 paint a much different picture for 2021. Things like “plan,” “help,” “confusing,” “complicated,” “please” and even “hope” dominate the list. Other previously popular terms, like those indicating a consumer is looking for a deal or promotion, have fallen off the list.

TLG marketers have, in particular, mulled the term “please,” Hegarty said. It either means consumers are getting more polite, or, more likely, they are confused by rules and regulations and are asking an advisor to “please, help me,” he said.

To McGillivray, that indicates more than just pent-up demand. 

“This is great news for the human touch, [for] us,” he said, referencing the entire industry, not just TLG. “Consumers looking to book travel are looking to us.”

Tara Hyland, owner of Tara Hyland Travel, a Travel Edge affiliate based in League City, Texas, agrees that consumers will be increasingly drawn to advisors. Tracking and complying with different regulations in different countries is confusing and time-consuming, she noted.

“And potentially, it could be very unpleasant if things aren’t done correctly, so I just think that professional guidance is going to be key to having a seamless trip,” she said.

Hyland also believes do-it-yourself travelers who found themselves untangling canceled trips and chasing refunds and vouchers after the pandemic hit will also seek the guidance and advocacy of advisors going forward.

She just recently got a new lead via Virtuoso.com that led to a booking. It also holds promise for