The former Winter Palace, which now houses the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. (photo via Grigorev_Vladimir/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)
Travel advisors are reporting mixed responses from clients regarding their Europe vacations in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, with some canceling and others keeping their plans intact.
Churchill & Turen, whose Europe bookings represent 70 percent of the luxury agency’s total business, has not had a single cancellation related to the invasion, said Managing Director Richard Turen.
“Our clients understand this is a contained military action and there is little to no fear it will somehow spill over into traditional European tourism centers,” he said.
“We see continued strength and we are now back to maintaining a new client waiting list once again,” he said. “Total 2022 Europe bookings are down now only 16 percent from 2019. We think that is a strong indication of a travel recovery.”
Nonetheless, Turen said he believes the invasion will have an impact on “overseas travelers in the budget and mid-price ranges” and those traveling independently.
Sunset view of the Red Square in Moscow, Russia. (photo via Nikolay Antonov/Dreamstime)
“Upscale clients will travel with little fear of visiting NATO countries and members of the European Union,” he said
“In fact, we are seeing far more sold-out sailings and tour departures than one might have anticipated. Independent travel within Europe will, we think, not recover for 24 months.
“There are just too many ‘what ifs’ associated with being on your own on a war continent.”
For Cal Cheney, owner of Bucket List Tours, the invasion is already having a negative impact on his business.
“Just when we seem to be coming out of COVID, this happens – and I have lost three summer trips already. Two of them were Baltic cruises that included St. Petersburg, and one was to Portugal/Spain,” he said.
“I have been to the Baltics and Russia, so I talked my clients into going early, and extended late and did a lot of work setting up hotels and excursions in Copenhagen and Stockholm, not to mention a nice two-day semi-private experience in St. Petersburg. So, I just feel drained as I go about having to cancel everything now.”
Just as it was during the heat of the pandemic, Cheney said he is “canceling things and doing the work twice, and not sure if we will ever recuperate any of it.”
He noted that a client who canceled the Portugal Spain trip said: “she didn’t want to be in Europe if NATO was at war with Russia.”
“All I could do was say that Portugal was nearly 2,000 miles away from the conflict,” he said.
When clients ask, “Is it safe?” Turen recommended travel advisors respond with, “Compared to what?”
“The US ranks 122nd on the Global Index list of the world’s safest countries. That means that using 2021 statistics, there are 121 countries in the world that are safer than the US,” he said.
“We do all possible to make our guests aware of the fact that, given our driving accident rate, one of the highest numbers of anti-vaxxers and our easily available guns, the US is a relatively dangerous place to travel compared to dozens and dozens of other countries.”
Meanwhile, at Acendas Travel, JoAnne Weeks, the agency’s vacation division manager at Acendas, said only a handful of European bookings have been canceled.
“Ironically, our European requests have kicked in, and have doubled to what they were in January,” she said.
Rather than canceling, clients have been contacting Acendas for insight.
“We need to remain on that middle ground at this time, just as we have done throughout the last two years and give [clients] the most current and accurate information we can, and ultimately allow them to make the best decisions for themselves.”
She added, “Geography and education always comes into play. People don’t realize the sizable amount of mileage between where the hotspots are, and where they plan to travel. It helps to put things into perspective, which allows them to base their decision on facts. Such as asking them if they would they cancel a trip to Los Angeles if there was a war in New York.”
For her part, owner of Amy Daniels of Custom Design Travel, a Travel Experts affiliate, said that although she believes the invasion could possibly have a negative on the 2022 Europe season, so far the conflict hasn’t resulted in cancellations.
“I have had just one client who has a family vacation to Italy this summer ask me if I had any reservations about them going,” she said.
“I let them know as of this point I do not but will continue to monitor the situation. As always, our client’s safety and well-being is our top priority.”