Does Pent-up Demand Truly Exist in the Travel Industry?

Many say there are signs of pent-up demand in the travel industry and it indicates that a rebound is upcoming. However, because I questioned the reality of pent-up demand, I decided to ask a few travel professionals to share their thoughts as informed by what they see in their day-to-day work.

Increasingly the term “pent-up demand” is getting regular mention in the travel and tourism industry. It is an economic term. It refers to the general public’s return to using, purchasing, or consuming a product or service in significant numbers after a lull in demand. It is therefore a term which is filled with good news and hope. 

Covid-19 is to blame for the drastic decrease in travel sales. But the nature of pent-up demand combined with the devastation of the pandemic on the travel industry made me wonder if pent-up demand truly exists. Is there really pent-up demand, or is it a term gaining popularity in our industry because travel businesses and travel professionals are hanging by a thread and need hope at this time? In other words, is there any evidence of Covid-19 induced pent-up demand?

The question has haunted me for good reason. If pent-up demand is real, then there is hope for a quick recovery in travel, and every encouragement I have given over the recent months to fellow travel professionals to prepare to flourish when travel returns is justified. But there must be a definitive answer to the question, and the best way to find it is to hear directly from those who are at the gate through which the wave of initial travel sales will flow. I therefore posed the question to travel advisors, and hotels and this is what I discovered from the most revealing responses:

Rochelle DeBaun of Peace Frogs Travel/Outfitters told me the following:

“In my view, at this exact moment with Covid-19 raging in the US, I feel there is a pent-up desire. But I don’t think there is pent-up demand – that immediate desire to get on a plane and transport oneself to somewhere else. My community and my long-standing clients are playing it ‘safe’ for now.”

What I found interesting is Rochelle’s designation of what she terms as “pent-up desire” – I feel like traveling but I don’t what to. This is real.

I realized similarities to Rochelle’s full comments when I heard from Ted Blank, a host agency manager and luxury travel specialist. Ted believes there is pent-up demand, unlike Rochelle, but they both mentioned something I was totally unaware of – travel shaming. According to Ted…

“Clients are extremely interested in traveling, but cautious and afraid now – afraid of the perceived risks of traveling and afraid of being bullied and shamed on social media if they travel.”

So, mixed in with Covid-19, travel shaming, as a result, is contributing to the reluctance to travel among consumers who have both desire and readiness.

Margie Jordan, a travel industry executive and speaker, is emphatic in her response and expression of belief in the existence of pent-up demand in the travel industry. In expressing this she references the cruise industry’s situation.

“There definitely is [pent-up demand]. There’s proof all around us. In the ocean cruise industry, the ships are required to do test cruises and present their plans to the CDC before they can take paying passengers on the water again. Royal Caribbean set up a form to complete for those who were interested in volunteering for the test cruises. Well over 100,000 people have completed the form.”

Amazingly the cruise industry, likely the hardest hit sector of the travel, shows solid evidence of pent-up demand. In the early days of the pandemic with thousands stuck on cruise ships stranded at sea because no port accepted ships with passengers sick with Covid-19, many likely thought that cruise will never rebound…here is what seems like the start of an epic comeback.

Joann Steele is a travel consultant and her response supports the strong return of the cruise industry. What she sees among her clients is an apprehension to fly but a pent-up demand to cruise.

“Many people are still scared to fly so when the cruises start to sail again there will be more uptick in travel because they can drive to cruise ports.”

Christy Mackley, travel advisor/owner for The Journey Group, says that there is absolutely pent-up demand, and in saying so opines that mental health is a factor.

“A trip ‘on the books’ is vital to many people’s mental health. We all need something to look forward to and travelers need a TRIP!”

This is a fresh way of looking at it. To me this means that travel advisors can contribute to and benefit from pent-up demand by booking advanced trips now for their clients. Everyone is looking to the future, and if making a booking now helps a client, then do it now for far enough into the future when it is likely to be a reality.

Tammy O’Hara is both an attorney and a travel advisor. She says there is pent-up demand among her clients but it is split according to demographics. Her younger clients are traveling already but not the older ones.

“My older clients are more hesitant and are really not starting to plan for travel until late 2021 into 2022.”

Based on the majority of responses, it seems that travel advisors think that late 2021 to early 2022 will produce the big wave of travel sales. Valerie Edgemon, an exotics and luxury travel advisor, agrees that there is pent-up demand and that it will be satisfied in 2022. She however believes that it all hinges on the success of the vaccine and the recovery of the economy.

“With the announcement of the vaccines, people are already beginning to look at what they can safely book post-vaccine.  We will have an explosion of travel in 2022 for sure – post vaccination and post recovery from the economic pain experienced during 2020.”

Mitchell Nover is director of communications and public relations for the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, and he too sees pent-up demand in the travel industry and he believes that the satisfaction of the demand will come in stages.

“I think that will come in different waves as it is a very personal decision, but I do think that people are certainly anxious to travel again.”

So, the conclusion of the whole matter is that the people in the know overwhelmingly see evidence of pent-up demand in the travel industry. They have different perspectives on it, and their varying views provide excellent insight and direction for us travel professionals. And as for me, I now believe!