Tourism in crisis: A massive wave of bankruptcies threatens

The travel industry almost wrote off the disaster year 2020. Now it’s about surviving the corona crisis and the coming year. What chances do travel agencies and tour operators still have?

Travel warnings, insecure vacationers, business standstill and anger about reimbursement of customer money: The tourism industry is experiencing an unprecedented crisis . The industry has largely written off the current year of the Corona crisis. “The year 2021 will be the year of the decision,” said Ingo Burmester, head of Central Europe at DER Touristik.

The industry, which was shaken by the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook a year ago, does not expect a quick return to its old strength. “There will only be a radical recovery in demand when a corona vaccine is available. Until then, we have to stabilize the industry so that a massive wave of bankruptcies is avoided,” said Burmester.

When will cruises boom again?

Tourism expert Torsten Kirstges from Jade University in Wilhelmshaven is confident that people’s travel habits will “normalize a little again in the coming year. In two or three years at the latest, cruises will boom again, and long-distance trips will be made again and caught up.” He assumes that travel behavior will not fundamentally change in the medium term.

But how many tour operators and travel agencies will survive by then? The companies not only lost revenue during the crisis. You will also need to repay money for canceled trips, unless customers rebook or accept a voucher. In addition, there is the annoyance of customers because there were delays in the refund of down payments, especially at the beginning of the Corona crisis.

Rebookings instead of new bookings

“What is happening in the travel industry now has almost epic dimensions compared to all crises”, reported Ralf Hieke, managing director of the Strier travel agency. Ingo Lies, founder and head of the company Chamäleon, who specializes in sustainable travel, currently invests 10,000 euros per day from “our reserves” into the company. “This year is largely over. Now it’s mainly about 2021. We currently have more bookings for the coming year than at the same time in 2019 for 2020, but it is mainly about rebooking,” Lies reported.

The DER Touristik Manager Burmester sees it similarly: “The demand in 2021 will be lower due to a lack of advance bookings. The current bookings are mainly due to rebooking.” He estimates that around 20 percent of tourism companies are currently at great risk of insolvency. “By 2021 the number will increase to 50 percent.”

After all: the interest in traveling next summer seems to be there. According to the latest data from Travel Data + Analytics (TDA), the 2021 summer season already accounted for 21 percent of booking sales in July. “The desire to travel is there this year and will also be there next year,” says Tui-Cruises -Chief Wybcke Meier confident. “We already have a lot of bookings in the system. Whether all the planned travel routes will be feasible depends of course on what is going on at the time.”

Bookings for the coming winter season

Tui Cruises is currently on the move with three ships. “We hope to be on the road again with all seven ships by spring at the latest, with a little less occupancy, in order to continue our health concepts and thus give our customers comfort and the greatest possible safety,” said Meier.

According to Travel Data + Analytics, bookings for the coming winter season have remained weak recently. Many travel destinations, especially long-distance trips, are currently not yet plannable due to travel warnings. The industry accuses politicians of having contributed massively to the uncertainty of vacationers. “The Foreign Office no longer decides on travel warnings alone. One ministry softens the other’s statements. That unsettles customers,” criticized Hieke.

There is little understanding for the statements by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) that the federal government will not bring stranded holidaymakers back again. “That was absurd,” said Kristges. “The organizers are obliged to do so. Those who are no longer brought back are the individual travelers.” Burmester also emphasizes: “The package tour is the safest form of travel with insolvency protection and the repatriation of guests by the organizer in the event of a crisis.” 

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