23/04/2020
How Covid-19 will change travel forever

Everything has changed says Rebounds Seamus Conlon and Steve Endacott

In between those moments when we are giving thanks to the NHS, or watching yet another webinar or in yet another family zoom quiz, most of us are trying to figure out what this change will mean for our industry, our ambitions, our incomes.

The key question ‘will it go back to how it was?’, for once, has a simple answer. No, it won’t.

It is unlikely that there will be any significant international leisure travel this year, with holiday travel within the UK probably a more realistic goal.

International borders are likely to remain closed to leisure travel until there is a vaccine, which is not a given, or until there are rapid testing kits that are certified by all countries.

Similarly, a lot of customers will be put off travelling because of worries about finding themselves in foreign hospitals or quarantined on cruise ships or in hotels.

Remember, these scenes are still fresh in customers’ minds.

The timing of when people can travel and feel safe doing so has a huge impact on how deep the changes to the country and our industry will be.

Governments, companies and individuals are likely to have significantly more debt and less reserves.

Governments can simply borrow more or print more money but, unfortunately, financing is much less flexible for companies and individuals.

I am optimistic that all governments will try to help their economies with stimulus and growth strategies rather than the austerity of old, but we are still going into a very bad recession no matter what.

As an industry, we should be lobbying hard to get our fair share of that stimulus and thinking how it would be best targeted.

Should the government invest in domestic tourism over outbound tourism? Should future government stimulus be targeted at carbon reducing tourism rather than reinventing old models?

As an industry, we also need to look at how coronavirus will impact how we deliver travel, sell travel and staff our travel business.

Delivering travel and social distancing

Social distancing is likely to be with us for a while, so how will that work in the practical delivery of travel?

This raises a number of questions and the prospect of many implications for all forms of travel and retailing:

  • Will the middle seat on aeroplanes really be left empty? This alone could put flight costs up by 30%;
  • Will airlines and hotels have to test clients for coronavirus at check-in, requiring much earlier arrivals. Will in-flight face masks be compulsory;
  • Will trust accounts become the norm, given the refund civil wars;
  • Will customers want private taxi transfers in resort instead of traditional coaches;
  • Will all-inclusive become more popular, because it requires less mixing and availability of local restaurants;
  • Will the demographics of travellers change next year with young people grabbing bargains, families hesitant and older people unable to travel;
  • Will travel agencies install the Perspex glass that now encloses supermarket checkouts around consultants’ desks;
  • Will this, or other measures, mean they lose out to homeworkers using Zoom to connect to clients;
  • Will sunbeds in hotels and on cruise ships be separated by six feet (one can but hope!);
  • Will customers use contactless cards kill the forex bureau business;
  • Will you be able to get insurance for coronavirus disruption and medical cover;
  • Where will the liability rest in the future if you sell a holiday and the customer contracts COVID-19 at the hotel or on a cruise ship.

I don’t think any of us really know how to deliver social distancing when travelling yet.

But I do think that travel will have to do a lot more than just telling customers to wash their hands and cough into their elbows.

And customers will want their travel provider to make the necessary changes.

The impact on selling travel

Social media and streaming services have grown exponentially, online shopping is booming, video chats and webinars are the norm and the longer we have in lockdown or extreme social distancing, the more this behaviour will be the norm, if it is not already.

Conversely, no one is visiting travel agencies, few people are buying newspapers, people are getting less direct mail, less brochures are being read.

Are consumers really going to resume these behaviours?

I personally am a huge advocate of the human consultant selling model in travel and I believe the increased use of email, video chat, Facebook and Instagram will make great consultants even more precious, but I am not sure why anyone needs to walk to a shop.

I would much prefer a Zoom appointment with a consultant.

The growth of video chat and social media, when weighed against current empty high streets, leads Rebound Consulting to predict that the likely post-coronavirus winner will be homeworking networks.

Running a travel business

Yes, it has been a long lockdown. Yes, it has been difficult at times with all of us getting re-used to living together 24/7.

Yes, I have missed the office, the routine, knowing what day of the week it is, but I do not want to go back to a daily commute and working in an office five days a week.

Working from home is possible for huge numbers of jobs and it has just been proven on an indisputable scale. The genie is out of the bottle.

Allowing your staff to work two or three days a week from home is likely to become the norm.

This will see smaller offices, new management styles and cheaper coffee/tea bills as employees drink their own.

After government-funded furloughs, travel companies will be forced to cut costs.

Will marketing and IT roles remain in house, or will companies want more flexibility and wider talent by using freelance sites like PeoplePerHour.com and Fiverr.com?

Video conferencing breaks geographical restrictions and widens the talent catchment area. Will more travel jobs become more freelance?

Adapt now to the new future, there will be no going back once the rebound comes.