Greetings from Malta!
We're just wrapping up what has been a lovely trip here in the sun-soaked cities of Malta, and I'm about to island-hop to Sicily to meet a new group of members for the second part of that LiveAway.
While this and other trips are ongoing we've been steadily working away on our 2024 trip roster, with some releases slightly delayed due to challenges in the still-turbulent travel industry. The 'new normal' is significantly different than it was, and there are new considerations not just for us in planning trips, but also for you as travellers.
Longtime readers may recall my previous writings on the difficulties facing the downsized hotels, airlines, and other industry businesses with staffing and serving the surge in travel demand post-pandemic.
Sometimes that all feels like a distant memory to me...but in reality the recovery only really kicked off around a year ago. So while that is 'old news' to some degree, there are several other signs that point to the incredible demand for travel across the globe, including two things I've never seen in my 30 years in the business.
The first is more a matter of degree; while I have seen hotels recall space from group operators before, I've never seen it on this scale and across so many countries. It's happening as far as 9 months out from a trip, and in some cases, irrespective of whatever contracts we've signed, they are demanding non-refundable deposits for those rooms if we wish to hold on to them.
This is, in a word, challenging. While there is a distinct subgroup of our community who make their plans a year or more in advance, and another who operate at the last minute, most of us do things somewhere in that 9-6 month window.
This difference I see as really just a personal preference thing that comes down to how much people like their lives planned vs open to spontaneity. And in the old world, all options were on the table.
The issue today is that the supply / demand imbalance is so great that the last-minute folks, and now even the middle-path folks, are being pressured toward the adopting the modes of the long-view folks. If you're destination agnostic, you can of course let the dice lead you on adventures; but if you have a specific place you want to go, you would be well-advised to make your plans early.
I say that not just in reference to our trips, but to anywhere you want to go by yourself, with friends, family, whoever. We get people every week asking if they can join trips happening less than 3 months away, and in almost every case we have been unable to secure any extra space. It's a new normal - for who knows how long - and there's not much else we can do besides adapt.
The other, newer, more eyebrow-raising development that I've never seen is that some hotels are now more strictly limiting allotment of rooms we can give solo travellers, and refusing to give us extra rooms if they aren't double occupied. This is not yet widespread, and in my view it pushes into customer-unfriendly behaviour...but more objectively perhaps it's just more evidence of the demand for travel in particular hotspots.
Critically, I don't actually see this getting better in the short or even medium term, and main the reason for that in my view is the return of the Chinese market to the travel industry.
Due to the restrictive lockdowns in China that carried on well into this year, the 'revenge travel' phase for Chinese travellers is really just beginning, well after the rest of the world. Group travel is more popular in China than it is in Canada, and tour operators are gobbling up rooms everywhere, without a second thought about non-refundable deposits, which is why I think we're seeing what we're seeing.
So - if you're thinking about travelling this year in particular, I strongly advise you to make your plans sooner rather than later. If you'd like to join one of our trips, we still have spots for some of our fall programs, including Japan, Croatia, the Mekong, and Georgia & Armenia.
Japan and Croatia are the most at risk of having space pulled from our suppliers due to their global popularity, so do get in touch if you're interested for either of those. If you're looking ahead to 2024, we've got a number of trips nearly ready to release, including Ireland, Namibia & Bostwana, and Sicily, with more on the way.
Last but not least, I'm pleased to release next year's Malta LiveAway, which you can find below. It's a fascinating spot to explore for a few weeks and it fits in nicely with our other Mediterranean LiveAways should you desire a longer winter getaway.
This is getting long so I'll wrap up here...be well & stay tuned for more trips in the coming weeks.