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January...the perfect time to lay on a southern beach with a margarita

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 13:40 -- Phil Egan

When I was working on the front lines of the international travel industry in Toronto, January was the month I hated most.

It was the month during which holiday operators scraped by – selling vacations at, or just below, cost.

The Irish writer, Stewart Stafford, once wrote these lines explaining why.

“Dickensian poverty tends to occur after Christmas in January. For it is then, with pockets empty, dairy decimated and larder bare, that the general populace sinks into a collective pauper’s hibernation until Valentine’s Day.”

For a holiday operator, January could be the most ulcer-inducing time of the year. You could wake up on a Monday morning with 1,000 seats to sell that week – knowing that, if you didn’t sell them, you were going to wind up paying for them regardless.

So – you sold for whatever you could get; because recouping the cost of even half an air seat was better than getting nothing at all.

I’m out of that fiercely competitive industry now, but – after spending 40 years at it – still interested in developments in the travel market and industry trends. The decision of Canadians as to whether or not to take a winter holiday is seen by economists as a measure of confidence in the Canadian economy.

I found it of interest then when Allianz Global Assistance recently released the findings of its third annual Winter Vacation Confidence Index. The poll was conducted by Ipsos at the end of October, 2018. Allianz Global is a company that provides travel insurance and assistance to Canadian travellers.

The major finding, of considerable interest to tour operators and travel agents across the country, was that 47% of Canadians intend to take a holiday this winter. That represents an increase from 41% during the winter 2017-18 season.

The results of the survey were carried in a recent edition of the daily industry newsletter, Travel Industry Today. It quoted Allianz Global vice president Don Keon, who emphasized something that Canadian tour operators have always known – a winter break is crucial to most of us.

“Canadians are becoming more confident about their ability to take an annual vacation, and 70 percent of us believe that annual vacations are important, but there is still a large deficit when it comes to reality,” Keon said.

In other words – money.

When asked about the main reason for not taking a vacation, almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) indicated that it was for budgetary reasons, with Gen Xers the highest at 76 percent.

“Cost is certainly an issue when considering a vacation but confidence in the economy may account for the increase in Canadians who said they will take a vacation this season,” adds Keon. The Conference Board of Canada reported in October that Canadian consumer confidence had risen 4.6 points, the highest since February, 2018.

“When it comes to travel, Canadians are becoming more confident but they are still clearly cost-conscious,” said Keon.

That level of confidence, as you might expect, spikes the younger the generation polled. I like to think that I’ve been confident all my life, but the Allianz Global survey shows that there is nobody as confident as a 30-year-oled. Consequently, Millennials scored a whopping 58% on the vacation confidence meter compared to Gen Xers at 46%. Boomers, now in or nearing retirement, score only 40%.

The survey also found that location, as well as age, reflected consumer confidence. Confidence is highest in Alberta and Quebec (75%), followed by Ontario (71%), B.C. (69%), Atlantic Canada (66%) and Saskatchewan/Manitoba (61%). It is likely not a coincidence that the three lowest-confidence regions also have the lowest number of low-cost flights to southern climes.

Whatever your age, take some advice from an old traveller. If you’re planning a vacation this winter, four things are critical.

First, use a travel agent. We are living in a world where even the most well-known travel supplier can surprise us by running into financial and operational issues. When you book with a registered Ontario travel agent, your vacation expenditures are protected by the Travel Industry Compensation Fund. Check the registrations of online travel agents.

Second and third, protect yourself with trip cancellation and medical insurance. Nobody books a holiday imagining that they will have to cancel, but unexpected things can happen. Medical insurance can also protect you against debilitating offshore expenses.

Finally – enjoy that margarita!

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