Best Tours & Travel is seeing a surge in demand for bus tours as the economy continues to open and restrictions on travel and entertainment loosen across the nation. With entertainment and travel stilted for most of 2020 because of the pandemic, an eager public is ready to hit the road.
Written by Frank Lopez
Though the pandemic brought the travel industry to a screeching halt last year, travel agents are seeing a pent-up demand for flights and cruises to U.S. destinations as well as abroad.
According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 18 airline carriers reported 56.6 million passengers in May 2021, up 607% from May 2020 with 8 million travelers.
Domestically, there were 51.7 million passengers on planes in May 2021, up from 7.8 million in May 2020, and there were 4.9 million passengers for international flights in May, up 2,522% from May 2020 with about 200,000 travelers.
At the onset of Covid-19 there were limits on who could enter the U.S. and nations across the globe had various restrictions for travel to their countries.
Many travelers either cancelled or postponed their trips to 2022 and beyond, but as the economy continues to open and travel restrictions loosen, people are eager to resume their travel plans.
Ready to go
At The Travel Address Galaxsea Cruises in Fresno, Owner and Partner Richard Fernandez said the pent-up demand is keeping the travel agency busier than ever.
At the start of the pandemic, Fernandez said it looked like he would go out of business with everything closed. Over the course of the last year and a half, clients have had to rebook and cancel trips repeatedly, and now that travel is opening, demand is high.
“Everybody is just itching to go somewhere, to do something,” Fernandez said. “Some people are using future travel credits that they are rebooking, but a majority of my business right now is just people looking to go somewhere.”
Normally, there is a big demand for destinations in Europe and Asia, but because of travel restrictions and fears for health and safety, there is more interest to visit areas in the Caribbean such as the Bahamas.
There was also a huge surge in travel to Hawaii, which was letting people who tested negative for Covid-19 enter the state. Because it was part of the U.S., people felt safe to travel there.
Domestic travel across the U.S. is also seeing a surge in demand, Fernandez said, with more people visiting national parks and big cities.
The increase in travel is also leading to a demand for hotel rooms, leading to limited availability for rooms and rate hikes.
Even with the proliferation of online travel booking sites such as Expedia and Kayak, there is still a demand for travel agents because of their first-hand expertise and package deals.
Though restrictions for travel did lax towards the end of 2020, it’s been in the last six months that Fernandez has seen the significant increase in demand.
With more travel routes opening from Fresno to destinations such as Denver, Las Vegas and Chicago, more people are able to fly right out of Fresno to connecting flights to any part of the country.
Craig Mungary, owner of Elite Global Journeys, a travel agency in Fresno that focuses on offering luxury experiences in Hawaii, Alaska, Europe, Africa, Asia and other exotic destinations around the world, said that people want to speak to someone who has been to their desired destinations.
With over 20 years in business, Mungary said that he and the team at Elite Global Journeys have built relationships with several tour operators, resorts and private guides that can make for a unique travel experience.
Mungary said the agency does not specialize in finding the cheapest deals to Hawaii, but there will always be a clientele that is willing to spend on a lavish vacation.
“We moved to this market to be more efficient for clients, and sometimes we do tell people that we don’t have expertise in finding a cheap vacation,” Mungary said.
There were a lot of clients that moved their vacations from 2020 to 2021, which is leading to the current influx of business. There are even bookings through 2024.
The uptick in business has been more noticeable in the last two to three months, but because of the uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 delta variant, Mungary still advises clients to put off their trips for a while longer.
The rush to travel has led to price increases all around, but Mungary expects them to stabilize as demand goes down over time.
“We are expecting the second half of 2021 to be an incredible year and we have over 200% of normal for bookings in advanced for 2022. I can’t remember in recent times when we had bookings four years in advance.”
Hit the road
It’s not just air travel that is seeing a boom in demand — bus tours are also returning.
Best Tours & Travel, a tour and charter company operating in the Central Valley for over 40 years, offers tours for schools, corporate and private groups to hotels, casinos, theme parks, museums, state and national parks, sport events and more.
In its 42 year in business, Jasmine Sayah, operations manager, said the company had operated every year until 2020 when the pandemic started.
While there were no tours operating during the pandemic, the team at Best Tours & Travel was still helping customers plan trips.
In January, the first trip since the pandemic shutdowns began was completely sold out.
A lot of the trips that the charter tour plans are for senior citizens, and with so much shut down during the pandemic, the charter tours give them a chance to travel and enjoy life.
During the pandemic, there were more tours to discover local sights and entertainment in the Central Valley.
“There are more people discovering the area in which they live. Customers love it because they can experience things they didn’t know about before. In June, we were looking to offer tours that brings a sense of comfort,” Sayah said.
With an increase in costs for fuel, more people are opting to travel long distances by bus, and are also saving money on the rise in products over all, and people are realizing they can save more money traveling by bus.
Sayah said that the company offers a community service by offering people the chance to travel and enjoy life and looks forward to an increase in demand.