Europa-Park (Rust, Germany) is scheduled to reopen May 29, 2020. Photo: InPark
By Judith Rubin
Two demographics that we can expect to see leading the way back into destination theme parks, resorts and global events are 1) luxury travelers and 2) business travelers in the attractions industry. The first because they can and will return as enthusiastic patrons, and the second because they must and shall return to work. Both will face changes in travel infrastructure and new safety precautions in COVID times.
Cheryl Rosen’s advice: Get a professional travel advisor.
It’s always good to get a complementary angle on things, and I am obliged to Cheryl Rosen, a seasoned, New York based travel writer, for some interesting and illuminating conversations, since first meeting her at a press event for the grand opening of Disney Springs in 2016. When it comes to visitor attractions, she and her community of travel advisor colleagues see things from the guest/booking perspective and the internal workings of the travel business, whereas I am mostly enmeshed in the nuts and bolts of the attractions themselves and how they come to be.
The members of the attractions industry – now very much a global industry – spend a lot of time on business travel away from home – on the road, in the air, in the field. They’re conceiving and creating the attractions, experiences and destinations others travel to for play. They’re at conferences and trade expos developing business, making connections and enlarging their knowledge base.
Back to work
Resuming business is something of a grand experiment at this point, as conditions continue to fluctuate. Many large public events have been canceled and others, such as Expo 2020 Dubai and the Tokyo Olympic Games, have had one-year postponements. But the first theme park re-openings have already taken place in Asia; and a number of parks in Europe and North America have begun announcing spring re-opening dates as well. (See InPark’s most recent update of attraction closures and re-openings.)
While some trade events are being postponed, canceled or moving online, others are moving ahead with real-world meeting plans. At this writing, for instance, AAM and InfoComm were holding their annual expos virtually, while plans for IAAPA Europe (London) and MAPIC (Cannes) were still in place
The German government has declared that trade shows are not mass events, paving the way for the events to resume in that country as soon as May 30. Organizations such as UFI are lobbying hard to keep in-person trade shows and conferences rolling and there is no denying the value of these events for professional development, networking and sales. (See InPark’s most recent update on industry events.)
Back to leisure
The dynamic of visitor attractions is marked by density and bustle – a shared, out-of-home experience, a never-sleeping city with busy streets, crowded restaurants and clubs. Reconfiguring and reinventing that while re-opening parks in phases spells some uncertainty – but it also means that the theme park industry is going back to work, and that guests will reappear.
What guests? The luxury clientele for whom Rosen’s travel-advisor community craft custom travel packages. Dubai Expo 2020 (opening now postponed to October 2021) is seen as a great product to incorporate into a larger travel plan to fit their (and their families’) interests. Pre-COVID, the Dubai expo was figuring in a lot of plans as a stop along a cruise that might end with a trip down the Nile.
Pack your bags, masks and food
Rosen observes that “the first thing airlines do in a downturn is cut out the small routes and cut down on the big routes. Delta is flying 5% of the customers it flew a year ago. It will take a while to come back – after 9/11 it took six years for airlines to recover prior capacity.” In the air, planes are crowded, early travelers report, as flights are few, and services are non-existent. Business travelers can expect to wear masks. Bring your own coffee – and bring food from home, many suggest. At hotels, expect dining options to be mostly room service; minibars have disappeared.
Business travelers may have a mandate to go, but leisure travelers simply want to – and those with the determination, the creativity and the means are making their plans and packing their bags. Several of Rosen’s travel advisor colleagues are planning Disney trips for clients as early as summer 2020, or as soon as the gates open. “People want to go, particularly to Disney and Universal parks,” says Rosen. “The fans really love them.” Travel advisors see these parks as uniquely positioned to be among the first places to come back, according to Rosen. “They have a reputation for doing the right thing, for quality and for keeping guests safe.”
Travel advisor Amanda Storm, a Disney specialist based in Kansas, indicated that her clients look forward to booking Disney and Universal trips as soon as they can. Storm reported that Universal has already rolled out pricing for part of 2021. Should air travel remain iffy, she has customers prepared to drive the 1,200 miles with their families. “Theme parks have a very loyal core audience,” she says.
When New York based travel advisor Jack Bloch of JB’s World Travel Consultants sends clients to Disney, they have a customized VIP experience away from the crowd that includes such perks as a personal assistant and private character breakfasts. “They likely will have an upsurge in demand,” he says.
Away from home
Whether traveling on leisure or business, Rosen cautions that the services of a travel advisor are needed now more than ever.
She stressed how travel advisors can step in for international clients when something goes wrong. “In March 2020, they were telling clients ‘don’t go’ and ‘come home now.’ We saw that borders were going to close. When you are not in your home country, this kind of support could literally save your life. A travel advisor has people on the ground, people they can vouch for, that can help take care of you in a crisis – drive you to the airport, get you onto your flight, get you out. They know the manager of your hotel, they know the restaurants, they know the ground transportation.” Your travel advisor will also fight to get you your refunds, Rosen notes.
There had already been a renaissance of travel advisors underway before the COVID crisis, per Rosen. It was driven partly by expansion in the cruise industry, but also by the need to navigate complexity, protect one’s investment and guard against unknowns. “If you’re going to spend thousands on a family vacation, or a business trip, it’s worth talking to a pro,” she says. Some advisors charge for their services (fee or retainer) but many rely on commissions instead. For US-based travelers who aren’t sure where to begin looking, Rosen suggests the American Society of Travel Advisors website, asta.org.
From all of us at InPark – Bon voyage! Travel safely and stay protected.
Cheryl Rosen can be reached at [email protected].