The U.S. Travel Association projects that travel spending will be down $505 billion in 2020, with gradual recovery expected over the next few years that reaches pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Despite the outlook, businesses in the travel industry can take steps to recovery by committing to heightened safety standards, kickstarting their marketing programs, and remapping revenue streams to pockets of demand.
1. Address the fear factor.
While COVID-19 has paralyzed the global travel industry in terms of canceled flights and travel bans, challenges run much deeper, believes Ross Thompson, CEO and founder of Covac Global, a membership program that arranges and pays for private evacuation to a traveler’s home should the person contract COVID-19.
“Now that physical restrictions to travel are lifting, we need to focus on the next big hurdle—traveler’s fear of contracting COVID-19 while traveling abroad,” says Thompson.
“Show that your company is going beyond the basic safety requirements. Consider getting a ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) or an alternative seal of approval. This demonstrates that your company has adopted the highest standards of health and hygiene protocols.”
Advertise your safety precautions to travelers to build consumer confidence in your company.
“If you run a tour company or your company otherwise engages in groups of travelers, make them feel safe by announcing policy changes, such as smaller group sizes and the availability of private tour options,” suggests Kevin Groh, COO of Cachi Life, a travel company. “Also provide face masks and hand sanitizer to travelers and ensure employees model safe behavior.”
2. Continue marketing.
Continuing to sell and market your travel business is vital, believes Casey Halloran, co-founder and CEO of Costa Rican Vacations, a travel company focused on international travel in Central America.
“Slash all nonessential expenses so that operational costs are as low as possible,” he says. “This will allow you to market and keep cash flow positive. Get creative. Sell gift certificates or travel consulting services.”
What is the secret sauce that makes guests chose your property versus others? ...Ensure that your staff and operations are ready to emphasize that differentiator with every possible guest interaction.
—Sean Miller, president, PointCentral
Encourage business by making travelers aware that travel is possible, suggests Groh.
“Give travelers a clear idea of what travel looks like,” he says. “Transparency is important. When travelers understand that travel to a certain area is possible, they will be much more likely to make concrete travel plans.”
3. Put a laser focus on customer service.
The old slogan the customer is always right could never be truer than it is right now.
“Patience and compassion with travel customers is necessary,” says Godwin Temba, director of African safari tour company Amani Afrika. “Learn to expect and accept last-minute cancellations and bookings.
"Being in the African safari business, our usual lead time is six to 12 months prior to arrival to confirm bookings. Nowadays, we’re getting requests from travelers wanting to come in two to four weeks," Temba continues. "They understandably wait to commit until it’s clear they’ll make it to their destination safely and home once the trip is over. As a result, expect to incur small costs in relation to travel changes. Treat these as a new marketing expense.”
When guests choose your service or establishment, ask why, suggests Sean Miller, president of PointCentral. (His company develops Smart Property IOT technology for property managers and owners.)
“What is the secret sauce that makes guests chose your property versus others?” says Miller. “With the concept of what makes your accommodations desirable, ensure that your staff and operations are ready to emphasize that differentiator with every possible guest interaction.”
4. Examine and adjust your business model.
Take time during the downturn to focus on how you can restructure or rebrand your businesses so that when travel reopens more widely across the globe, you’ll be ahead of your competitors.
“This is the time to review all the digital marketing strategies you've been wanting to implement,” says Temba. “Examine expenditures and protocols and determine if the way you conducted business pre-COVID will work in a post-COVID world. For example, does it make sense to own all your tourist vehicles and employ your tour guides, or should you hire vehicles and contract freelancers?”
It's also a wise idea to focus on domestic tourism.
“Given that international travel has been severely compromised by regulations and quarantines, it will be important to target the populations you can serve, so you can keep revenue flowing,” says Groh.
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