By: Sebnem Denktas
April 13, 2020
We love to travel beyond borders. We love to explore new worlds. We love to meet new people. We love to make extraordinary memories…. And we don’t want to think that with the Covid-19 all is lost, travel industry will collapse, agencies will shut down, cruises will stop, hotels will be turned into shopping malls…. We don’t want to be told to put off our travel plans for a couple of years to make sure there is no threat around… What we need is honest industry leaders who will show us the right way… And here is one of them: Mary Jean Tully, the founder and CEO of Toronto-based Tully Luxury Travel. Mary Jean has been recognized by Forbes and Condé Nast Traveller as an industry leader, and named one of the most powerful women in travel industry by Travel Agent Magazine. As a good friend of mine, she gave me the chance to interview her about the effects that the coronavirus might have on the future of travel.
We know nothing will be the same in the world and in the travel industry as well. But we want look to the bright side! What are your hopes of survival in a virus-struck industry? How best can this new threat be overcome?
I have been in the travel industry for over 30 years, and like everyone else, we have never experienced anything like the disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Our priority here at Tully Luxury Travel continues to be looking after our clients, keeping them safe and doing our best to alleviate their worries during this most stressful of times. We were able to rebook all of our clients, get them home safely and rearrange all of their travel plans. Whatever it is they needed, we were there for them, and that in of itself is priceless.
In light of everything that has happened, it is clear we will never experience the world the same way again. Many of us took our right to travel as a given; now we know we must never take it for granted. But… we will all travel again of this I’m sure.
The Coronavirus has opened many people’s eyes to the value of working with a travel agency. We are not a “dying breed” like many people have thought in passing years. In fact, we are stronger then we have ever been. People realize now more than ever, the importance of working with someone that has clout behind them and will be their advocate. We don’t charge a fee, but our relationships and power to look after every detail and ensure the safety of our clients is invaluable. Everything in life is about relationships. Booking online there are no relationships, just transactions. When we are ready and able to travel again, Tully Luxury Travel will be there for our loyal clients who continue to trust and support us because of our expertise. During this time we have attracted so many new clients going forward as they now will never just book online again.
I know for sure that we will get through this together and come out stronger for it. The desire to travel and see the world is not going to go away. People will never give up their God given right to travel. Personally I can’t wait to return to my beloved Africa so that I can support the communities that I have grown to love deeply. I also very much look forward to sailing again on a cruise as I had just returned from two of them in the past 2 months.
What do you think the positive impacts this outbreak might have on luxury travel business?
The way people do business will be a little bit leaner. I don’t think people will go online and be as flippant about whatever it is that they find. Rather, they will want to have more credible research and have more information at their fingertips. And more and more people are going to want to work with trusted travel agents with clout because as I have said, relationships matter now more than ever.
What can you tell us to calm our coronavirus travel fears? Some facts and figures, some hopes and dreams?
I think people are going to be more cautious than ever from a cleanliness and health and safety standpoint. I don’t think people will be shaking hands as much. It’s ironic really…. They have not been shaking hands on the luxury cruise ships for a long time and yet the cruise lines got a very bad rap for what was happening with the spread of COVID -19. I suspect more people will wear masks as we have seen many that have been wearing them in Southeast Asia for a long time. It’s almost a “faux pas” not to be wearing one in Asia. Further, I believe there are going to be more temperature checks taken at the airport before boarding a plane and people are going to be more cognizant of health issues everywhere you go.
What is the key for to staying fearless during this period, especially for travel agents and designers?
We are the eternal optimists. Choosing to have a positive and collaborative attitude is key! We are all in this together and we all need to believe that we will travel again…we will reach new heights….we will soar….of this I’m sure. We can do this!! We just have to believe.
What will be the “new and revised” travel trends in the post-coronavirus world?
I don’t know if there will necessarily be new and revised travel trends, as I have always felt that people will never give up their God-given right to travel. Perhaps now, we will be more appreciative of nature and want to be in areas that are less crowded so that people can take in their surroundings more and connect on a deeper spiritual and intellectual level. Maybe looking for something more meaningful when it comes to their travels. I think more people are going to want to travel with a purpose. I also think more people will fly private. From a costing standpoint, when you look at families and couples that spend the extra money instead of just flying business class or first class, they will spend the extra money to fly privately. I think they will want to avoid a lot of crowds and big public gatherings.
From your perspective, which destinations will rule the post-coronavirus world?
I believe people are going to want to get closer to nature and be closer to home perhaps at the beginning and take shorter trips.
Health and wellness has always been a big thing but I think people are going to seek out destinations where they can really be in tune with themselves and their immediate environment and have more of a global conscious. They are going to be more aware of the world around them and want to immerse themselves with other families and cultures that are different from their own. But at the same time, I suspect people are going to be looking for inner peace and joy in the simpler things.
Do you think the traveller behavior will change? If so, how?
Clients are going to want more hands-on/ VIP services. Health and safety is going to be top of mind for everyone. They will want to learn about more options, insurance issues with all the pros and cons and they will pay more attention to it.
What do you think the travel industry and the travellers can learn from this crisis?
As I said earlier, many of us including me, took our right to travel as a given; now we know we must never take it for granted. And while travel is often a luxury, this global crisis has also shown us how vital the tourism industry is for millions of lives across every continent. The money we spend supports countless individuals and families- and they need us to start exploring again!
I know your passion for Africa! The continent seems to be the least infected at the moment. Do you think we can start travelling from there?
I don’t think we can say anything at this point. Africa is less infected but perhaps there is not enough testing that’s going on there. I think the whole world will forever be changed but I definitely see Africa as being a destination where they have renowned safari’s that take you into wide open spaces where you are able to be with the animals and it’s not as crazy busy as it is in cities. I think the remoteness and the vastness of it and the inner peace and calm that Africa brings will be something that people will want and crave more of. I know I personally can’t wait to get back to Africa right now!
Sustainable practices, eco-friendly hotels, fast trains, facial recognition technologies at the airports, etc, etc.. Maybe now all we need will be a health-visa to enter countries… Do you think such a procedure can be on the table from now on? If so, what will the outcomes be like?
I definitely think this is coming. I think you will see digital health passports on travelers’ smart phones be introduced globally. We are hearing and seeing in the news, that in China, they are already starting to do this. Technology is very advanced. A person’s temperature is taken, and if you have a fever, you automatically have to go into quarantine for two weeks. People have to show their health records wherever they go. I think for the health and safety of everyone, we will see technology play an integral role in how we screen travelers moving forward.
What will travel be like in 2021 and onwards?
The Coronavirus has affected us all over the world but it has also connected us. We are all in this together. I believe people are going to look at the world in a more connected way and the desire to give back when they travel is going to be paramount. My passion for wildlife through my travels to Africa has made me an avid conservationist regarding the poaching of elephants, rhinos, and big cats. And I have been an advocate for not using animals in any touristic endeavors and I continue to strive to bring much needed attention to how people in the travel industry can be a voice to make a difference.“ Be the change” is one of my favorite expressions. More and more people are going to want to travel with a purpose post Covid-19 and give back while they are experiencing the trip of a lifetime.
I also think that more people will be travelling on private planes in the future. Also renting villas will be something that many will be interested in doing. Imagine renting a villa for example in Tuscany with just your family and no one else around? I think this will be very attractive to many.
More screening will also be the norm in the future. Regardless of if you are boarding a plane or embarking a cruise, I think this will be a part of everyday travel like checking your temperature on your smart phone. If you have a high temperature, you will not be allowed in places.
And you are a great expert on luxury cruise travel. Can you share your opinion about the coronavirus impact on the cruise industry?
This is going to have a huge impact on new business to cruises. We literally had hundreds and hundreds of people out on cruise ships during the beginning of the COVID-19, all without incident. All of our regular cruise clients (we do over $100 million a year in business on cruises) have all said they will all go again without any hesitation.
This is important to know. Unfortunately, the cruise lines have received a very bad rap unnecessarily. What happened with the Princess ship in Japan was handled wrong by both the authorities in Japan and by the cruise line. People were infected and nobody wanted to let them get off the ship. They should never have been quarantined on the ship without any medical procedures in place, masks or any medical treatment whatsoever.
It is unfair to place blame. This was something that in the moment, no one knew what the proper protocol was.
The port was worried that they wouldn’t have the infrastructure in place if hundreds of people had to go to a hospital. But by letting people float around without getting any medical attention or get off the ship made it worse and the media jumped all over this.
For people to blame the entire cruise industry is wrong on every level. They have standards that they go by and we had hundreds of people spread all over the world on cruise ships and not one was infected and not one of them complained about the way that they were handled or anything that happened on the ships. These are isolated instances and awful that people died. But let’s put it into perspective, with what is happening all over the world in our cities and local communities etc.
And for people who think that the cruise lines are destroying the waters by throwing plastic that’s a completely other conversation that is so not true they are governed and held accountable completely. Unfortunately, it’s the human race doing things and throwing trash into the oceans and freighters and cargo ships that are not regulated. Cruise lines have very strict guidelines and regulations and not one of them have been fined for polluting the oceans. People need to get their facts straight. To make blanket statements against them is just wrong.
As Tully Luxury Travel, how do you get prepared for the new future?
What we have always done. Work hard, put our clients first and nurture and support our relationships. The travel industry now more than ever needs unconditional love from governments, tourism boards etc. we need to be collaborative and innovative and when we are ready and able to travel again, Tully Luxury Travel will be there to make our clients “dream travel” experiences come to life as we have always done. Travel will unite us.
And… Where do you plan to travel first after the world gets to heal a little bit?
My beloved Africa of course! The Sheldrick and Singita will be my first stops. I need to check in on my baby elephant!
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