OTTAWA -- What has been a challenging year for most has been a turbulent one for the travel industry.

Global air travel is recovering more slowly than expected and it could take until 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels. The International Air Transport Association pushed back its prediction by one year due to the slow containment of the outbreak in the U.S. and developing countries.

In the meantime, local travel agencies are hopeful for calmer waters ahead, and say they are starting to see a renewed interest in bookings.

“A little bit of a roller coaster! I think we’re all looking forward to 2021,” said Elaine Simpson, of Algonquin Travel in Gloucester. “We just want to say 'bye-bye 2020!'”

Simpson says the year started off great for travel agencies, but business almost came to a halt in March. She says that first month of the pandemic was mostly about getting people home from abroad, but it has since picked up with bookings into 2022.

Cooped up and ready to move again

The pandemic has kept most people at home, leading to what one industry expert calls a crisis in the travel business.

“It’s been an incredible five months,” said Richard Smart CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO). “Everyone is saying this is a once in a lifetime generational crisis.”

However, spending months at home has some now looking to the sky or to the open road again.

“We’re a society that loves to travel,” Smart said. “There’s a pent-up demand to travel. With being cooped up and working from home these days, I think everyone is ready to travel again but, obviously, they’re concerned. They want to feel safe to do so.” 

Travel agencies are also looking ahead.

“Travel agencies and tour operators have had re-tool significantly over the past five months, and likely will continue to do so for many months,” said Smart.

Jeff Walker, President and CEO of CAA North & East Ontario says with interest coming back, travel agencies can start to recover some of their lost revenue.

“It literally feels a bit like a roller-coaster and now we’re just on that start of the uphill climb again,” he said.

“You have to remember, we have this huge mass of baby boomers who have either just retired or just on the cusp of retiring. The reality is that there is this window of about ten years, let’s call it 65-75, where that’s your big window to do your big travel.” 

Smart says there is plenty of time for planning, with many travel restrictions still in place.

“What we’re recommending to consumers right now is to do the research. Above all, it’s so important that you and your family feel safe and are safe when it comes time to travel,” he said.

If you’re not ready to travel just yet, Simpson has the perfect idea for you:

“It costs nothing to dream and, right now, I think we’re all at that dream stage and hoping that we can get away.”

With files from The Associated Press.