Caribbean Travel Booking Windows Are Shrinking
By Joe Pike, Special Contributor to Caribbean Travel Advisor
Top-notch travel advisors are reporting a substantial shrinkage in booking windows since COVID entered the equation and are not expecting the trend to end soon.
And advisors say that’s nowhere more true than in the Caribbean.
Lena Brown of Largay Travel said COVID has seriously shortened the time in which clients plan and subsequently book Caribbean vacations simply because the pandemic showed travelers’ “how important it is to just get out and go.”
“In the past, before COVID, I found clients booked trips a year or two in advance,” said Brown. “Now, I get inquiries to travel in just a few months. They are talking with family and friends over dinner one night and the next day they are calling me to book a family cruise or vacation.”
Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel / Always Travel and co-founder and owner of Russian Connections, reported the same.
“Clients are a lot more spontaneous, last-minute in 2023,” said Zakharenko. “Weekend getaways are now booked a week or two before. Longer, more complicated trips, are booked three to six months [in advance].”
What challenges does this pose for advisors, including those who focus on the Caribbean?
“This creates a few issues for the agent,” said Zakharenko. “A client with a last-minute getaway skips to the front of the line due to the time urgency and delays the response to clients planning a trip further in the future. With last-minute requests, availability becomes an issue and clients can’t always get what they want, for the price they want.”
One example Zakharenko shared is when a client called him on a Sunday for a getaway the following weekend. Due to the last-minute nature of the request, the client was nervous about availability and wanted a response right away.
“I responded late Sunday and, by that point, they put a room on hold just to be safe and then Monday, I had to contact the hotel, change the room and transfer it to me,” said Zakharenko. “All of this could have been avoided with more time to plan.”
Brown said very recently she needed two cabins for a Caribbean cruise leaving in eight weeks, adding that she “miraculously” got the last two cabins on the ship. Also, she said many hotels and tours are sold out with such a short time before travel.
And that’s not all.
“Another struggle is trying to find a [Destination Management Company] that will take last-minute reservations,” said Brown. “They too have challenges finding space and prefer to assist with reservations at least six months from departure.
“I also find airfare is extremely expensive when you don’t book far in advance,” she added. “Clients are shocked at the cost of the flights. Explaining the planes are full and the options are slim is exhausting.”
And despite the limited time an agent has to plan the perfect, customized trip, clients are still expecting them to pull it off, said Michelle Gordon of Jetset World Travel.
“I have clients reaching out to me for travel in the next month or two, which back in 2019 would feel incredibly rushed,” said Gordon. “Clients still want everything customized, but just on a shorter planning timeline.”
Nikki Miller, founder of Travel With Nikki, said booking windows have simply been erratic. She said bookings have been either close, about six to eight weeks in advance, or far out, at least 12 months prior to the vacation.
“This January brought in the most close in requests that I’ve had for February and March travel that I’ve ever seen,” said Miller. “Fifty-six percent of bookings made in the first quarter of the year traveled in the first quarter of the year. This seems to have leveled out some beginning in Q2 (quarter two) as my travelers are focusing more on trips that are 12-plus weeks out.”