During an inter-office email exchange recently, a colleague replied to a rather dubious story circulating with one word – “2020.”


This will be a lost year for many of our businesses. Having gone through a decade of growth, the white-hot travel industry had a crowbar jammed in its flywheel in March. Hotels in major metropolitan areas have still not reopened, or if they did, are suffering from occupancy rates in the 30-40% range. Cultural institutions are crawling back, seeking to balance safeguarding visitors and paying the light bill. Theme parks are cutting hours or closing earlier than ever before. The restaurant industry is a hot mess. Unless you’re surrounded by a National Park or beaches, this was the summer that never was.


Through this shelter in place, keep-your-distance year, consumers have had a lot of time to reflect on what’s most important to them. Expect them to embrace travel, but before we get too excited, understand the industry will limp before it walks straight. What does that mean? Overabundance of caution. Staying closer to home. Asking lots of questions. Needing reassurance that if they put money toward a trip, they can get it back if things go awry. It’s time to throw out the cancellation penalties.

If you haven’t been out on the road with your groups, start your return to travel small. Run some shorter trips with lower load factors to get the feel for how things are. Set everyone’s expectations appropriately with a smile on your face.

What’s most important is that you plan appropriately for the future. While many of us have pushed 2020 trips to 2021’s calendar, let’s not overlook the opportunity to add new product. This should take the shape of shorter, regional getaways, focusing on outdoor venues and wide-open spaces. It could include bounce back destinations that will be eager to welcome travelers back, putting incentives in place to do so. It could include a new type of trip, something you haven’t ventured into before but always wanted to. The reality is this – for the time being, folks are going to be hesitant to travel. Show them that you’re ready to take on the challenge. That you’ve vetted vendors, done your homework and are there to ensure a fun, safe return to travel.

Get these next few trips under your belt and listen to what reliable customers say. Not the naysayers who suck the joy out of life, but the diehards who are with you through thick and thin. That’s your base, that’s where you start rebuilding your travel program.

By Jeffrey Gayduk