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We’ve Weathered the Storm

It’s finally over. But it’s not over yet.

For all intents and purposes, the COVID-19 pandemic has come and gone. The vaccination campaign has been an astonishing success, and public health authorities have declared it safe for vaccinated individuals to return to life as normal. Mask mandates are being revoked, capacity restrictions lifted and cruise ships relaunched. Even many international destinations that were strict about lockdowns and quarantines have announced plans to allow vaccinated visitors to cross their borders again. All in all, the news is good for travel.

Now that the shutdowns and panic have subsided, though, there’s a new problem to tackle: navigating a landscape that has been dramatically altered by recent events.

In many ways, it feels like our industry has spent the past 15 months riding out a long storm. Like people do in any natural disaster, we took shelter wherever we could find it. And after a harrowing experience, we’re finally beginning to emerge. The danger is gone. But there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. In some ways, the real work begins now.

There’s no raging disease or public policy holding us back anymore. But the storm has wrecked our infrastructure. We lost a lot of seasoned veterans to layoffs in the early days of the pandemic. Many of them have found work in other industries, and we’re glad they did. But they left a gap of skills and knowledge that will take time to fill. And in a cruel twist, generous unemployment policies are incentivizing many service workers to stay home instead of returning to their jobs.

The good news is that the huge pent-up demand for travel is finally being released. But across the country, tour operators, hoteliers, restaurateurs, attractions and other travel providers are having trouble hiring enough people to meet that demand. Compounding those challenges are continuing supply shortages that, along with an insane amount of government money sloshing through the economy, are driving travel prices to dizzying heights.

These new problems are daunting, but they aren’t permanent. Unemployment policy, set to change in September, should push many people back to work. Broken supply chains will heal, and the demand spike will even out into a more manageable curve. 

In the meantime, you’ll have to be resourceful and scrappy as you get back to travel and convince your friends and customers that they should come with you. To help with that, we’ve dedicated the Group Travel Essentials department of this issue to creative ideas for overcoming the challenges facing tour groups today. See “Meet the Challenges of Restoring Your Travel Program” on page 10.

Nobody is going to solve our problems for us; we have to roll up our sleeves and solve them ourselves. Fortunately, no single one of us has to tackle all of the issues facing the entire industry. We just have to find a way through our individual challenges. We have to open our doors. We have to find ways to serve our customers, even when help is scarce. We have to operate tours, even if they’re not full and don’t make much money.

Our collective comeback won’t be the result of a policy decision or a government bailout. Instead, it will be the sum of thousands of small victories won by people like you.

We’ve already survived the storm. Now, it’s time to clean up the damage. Who’s ready to get to work?

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.