The nicest sightseeing trip I made this year took place the other night, when I toured the streets of South Pasadena looking at the Christmas lights.
It sure seemed as if there were a lot more spectacular displays than in past years. I guess some people decided that there was no place like home to find happiness this Christmas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
I know one family that usually travels on the Christmas holidays, but the children were happy this year to stay home and decorate the house.
But not everyone is happy to be putting up Christmas lights or writing season’s-greetings cards.
This year has been a bad year for people who have wanderlust. And so, before the old year passes and the new year begins, I asked an expert to look into her crystal ball and tell me what she sees for travel in 2021.
Heidi Hoehn has been manager of what is now the TravelStore at 140 S. Lake Ave. in Pasadena for 20 years. The TravelStore has its headquarters in Los Angeles and has offices around California.
Hoehn lists more than 200 families in her active data base in the 91030 ZIP code who are active travelers, as well as a half-dozen corporate offices that are handled by the TravelStore’s corporate departments.
Business in her office dropped more than 90% the first month after the pandemic shutdown, and stabilized somewhat to about a 70% drop with a slow climb month over month since August.
Travel has always been a part of Hoehn’s life, and she has been in the travel business for more than 30 years. I’ve known her and her spouse, Maria Luisa Fabbri, a native of Florence, Italy, for years, and they have regaled me with stories of journeying all over the world.
“I think the lowest point emotionally was when the fifth or sixth trip canceled for one of my older clients,” she said. “Giving up their planned trips, for healthy travelers in their 80s or late 70s, is more painful as their window of time to take these long planned journeys in the future may be shrinking.”
Many clients now are citing the COVID-19 vaccine as the biggest determinant in future plans, Hoehn said, with most travelers saying that they will not be comfortable until they finish the two-shot protocol.
Hoehn has a lot of thoughts and advice for those South Pasadena residents dreaming of or planning trips for 2021 and beyond. She said people are already planning special-event vacations such as weddings for May, but most are starting to book now for the second half of next year or 2022.
“In the past six months, we’ve arranged safaris to Kenya and Tanzania as soon as they opened,” she said, “and we have Zambia and Botswana teed up and ready to go once they open — the opportunities are unique to visit these areas when so few people are there.”
Some people don’t even mind the places that require quarantines, which Hoehn said are just part of the plan. You can work remotely for a few weeks, and then for a few weeks you can go forth and do whatever the locals are doing. Then you come back to L.A. and quarantine for two weeks.
Sounds like a lot of quarantining to me, but …
“If you have the money, two weeks in a hotel room with room service and good Wi-Fi … it can be a great break from the views of your backyard, or for your kids to do a ‘school-cation’ — take classes in the morning and spend the afternoon hiking or playing on the beach,” Hoehn said. “A number of hotels and resorts are specializing in these combinations of schooling and outdoor activities and learning.”
There are great itineraries, too, for people who want to see the United States in their cars, but not miss the benefits of an international trip. That means not just going to a national park, but also taking a curated trip such as going off road in Yellowstone National Park to look for wolves, or having a guide lead a trip to explain animals and plants or even to find the best locations for photographs.
People are already planning trips that combine a few days of camping with a few additional nights at a luxury mountain lodge or great spa. National parks and many of the more upscale mountain and countryside lodges and inns are seeing a large increase in booking and inquiries, she said.
Hoehn, who lives in Altadena, said her company’s staff wonders whether group travel will be more appealing going forward with guides who are all held to a certain standard of protocol and cleanliness.
“This is the kind of extra care which a quality group tour can provide and may indeed be more appealing to people now,” she said.
Another theory, Hoehn said, is that people will be more interested in nature and less crowded trips going forward.
For those people who loved to cruise in the past, many of those travelers are ready to again say “Anchors aweigh.” The images of a Princess Cruises ship being barred from a port by the Japanese and the high rates of infection on ships for years are burned in some people’s minds, and it may take a long time to erase these memories.
Hoehn said that cruises on smaller ships have started up again and have gone well for the most part, and booking volume for 2021 and 2022 is high for the industry.
“Once people feel comfortable cruising — again, the problem is going to be finding space,” Hoehn said, “so most of our experienced cruisers are booking what they want so they’ll have it if they want it, and with the cruise lines’ flexible cancellation and change policies, they know they can rebook or cancel and get a refund if needed.”
In terms of deals, Hoehn said cruise lines and resorts are not discounting to a huge degree, but rather are offering very low deposits and easy payments and giving people the ability to cancel close to departure. Many hotels are required or are choosing to operate at a lower occupancy rate due to safety measurements, and Hoehn said they actually need more money per occupied room to break even.
Airline rates have been very low, particularly in business class and first-class cabins, but they’re still not something everyone can afford.
Just as in the retail and restaurant industries, the travel sector, Hoehn said, will continue to see bankruptcies and closures worldwide, and agents will have to be even more careful about transportation companies they are using and where they put clients.
Finding out the ever-changing rules demanded by the pandemic makes travel agents a valuable resource, although Hoehn says part of the fun for many people is coming up with their own itinerary. Her office handles a lot of return visits to Europe, with Italy bringing the most return visitors, followed by France.
“Most of us forecast that we won’t be getting back to anything close to normal in leisure travel until the second or third quarter of 2021, and business travel maybe not until 2022,” Hoehn said, “but for vacation and leisure travel we anticipate the last half of 2021 may be very busy because of pent-up demand.
“People may be focusing on those ‘bucket list’ types of trips, splurging because they went without a vacation in 2020,” she added, “and while the trend for extended and multigenerational travel has been increasing in the last decade, we expect a huge bump in people wanting to travel together as a family or with groups of friends, as they have been isolated this year.”
Most Americans, rather than dreaming of a White Christmas in some exotic land, are going to have to have to settle for a quiet holiday at home.
Wherever you may be, be safe, be healthy and have a happy holiday season.
Editor’s note: The TravelStore is located at 140 S. Lake Ave., Suite 280, in Pasadena. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (626) 795-0291.