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Ride this Wave to Shore

I never learned to surf, but I’m determined to ride this wave all the way to shore.

In many ways, life in the tourism industry throughout 2020 and early 2021 has felt like a bad day at the beach. Though the forecast called for warm weather and sunny skies, we were met instead with towering storm surges and gale-force winds. And even though we tried to pick ourselves up after each wave hit, it seemed that just as soon as we started to find our footing, another larger one knocked us down again.

Finally, though, it looks like the storm is passing. A successful vaccination campaign has reversed our fortunes in the fight against COVID-19. And freed from the grip of fear and emergency regulation, Americans are ready to travel again.

Now, the coming waves promise fun and fulfillment. Among the most significant is the “silver wave” of older Americans who, being among the first vaccinated, will also be among the first to travel (see “It’s Time to Ride the Silver Wave”). Now that the Centers for Disease Control has given its blessing for vaccinated individuals to travel, I expect the wave to be strong and swift.

  A silver wave is especially advantageous for the group tourism industry because retired people have long been the target demographic for the lion’s share of our products. Those who have spent a year quarantining at home are now ready to make up for lost time, and some will even spend more than normal on their trips this year since last year’s adventures were canceled.

The silver wave is only the beginning, though. Many experts, even some of the most cautious, expect the vaccination effort to largely neutralize the pandemic in the next month or two. So, destinations that rely on vacationing families should see a robust recovery this summer. And with schools transitioning back to in-person education, this fall and next spring could bring the return of student travel as well.

All together, these trends represent a rising tide for the tourism industry. And although it could take another year or two for business to return to pre-pandemic levels, positive news and pent-up demand could give us enough momentum to return to profitability sooner.

I certainly look forward to enjoying a prosperous travel economy again. But for me, the wave of recovery is about much more than dollars and cents: It’s about travel itself. It’s about exploring new places, eating new foods and getting to know new people. It’s reconnecting with old friends in cities and towns all around the country and — soon, I hope — around the world.

I’ve said many times in the past year that travel isn’t just something we do; it’s who we are. Those of us who make careers in tourism don’t do it for wealth or prestige. We do it because the road runs through our veins and hospitality is in our DNA. Many of us have been doing it for so long that we can’t imagine doing anything else.

If that sounds like you, I want to invite you to join me in riding this wave. The storm is passing, the skies are clearing, and the horizon is bright once again. This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.