Like many people in the Travel sector, I had hoped that the worst of Covid-19 disruption was behind us and that we could look forward to a strong Summer 2022. But then Omicron came along!
Only time will tell whether European Governments are overreacting by trying to bolt the entry door shut after Omicron has already entered the country. However, as an industry, we need to understand that the new normal for travel is “uncertainty” and work around this unpleasant reality.
January booking peaks are likely to be thing of the past with customers only willing to book 2-3 months in advance, once they have a better view of how easy travel will be. For example, how many families with children between 12-15 will book a holiday in January to Spain, now it is only accepting double vaccinated UK citizens when it’s unclear when access to a second jab will be available to children in this age group?
The Spanish tourist authorities will be tearing their hair out, with their own Government, over these double vaccination demands.
Spain is leading the way in terms of vaccinating children, having double vaccinated 84.5% of its 12–18-year-olds, but it seems to have completely ignored the status of its biggest holidaymakers source markets.
Germany only approved vaccinations for under 16’s in August 21 and has vaccinated 47.3%. The UK is even further behind, having only started the process in Sept 21 and currently only have 44.4% vaccinated with a single dose and virtually no children having received both the vaccinations Spain is now demanding for entry.
Spain, therefore, has in effect banned families with children between 12-15 from holidaying in the country this winter and booking a summer holiday in January because of the uncertainty about access to jabs for kids before the summer.
The fear of testing positive doing the pre-return testing process and being forced to quarantine overseas will also put off a huge number of potential holidaymakers, even before the costs of pre and post-arrival testing are considered. It would appear that the biggest impact of omicron is not making more people seriously ill, but increasing the rate of spread of Covid-19, making catching it abroad more likely, so it is likely to depress holiday demand significantly.
Again, it’s frustrating to have these testing restrictions imposed with virtually no notice, even though the Governments own advisers admit that it’s virtually impossible in the modern world to keep new variants out of the country and imported omicron cases are insignificant compared to the rate of domestic spread.
However, this is now the new normal, so how do we adjust?
Here are my top 5 tips are:
· Self-service amendments. Bit the bullet and follow Easyjet’s lead in making booking amendment a self-service function complete online. As much effort now needs to be put in slickening up the amendment process that has been put into optimising booking funnels in the past. For example, my own business Rock Insurance has developed a new amendment API that can be integrated into partners customer account areas so that any flight or holiday amendment is automatically captured and used to update the customer's insurance policy without any need for inconvenient or expensive to handle phone calls.
· Low deposit and flexible amendment. Customers will only book if deposits and bookings are moveable based on Covid-19 circumstance, at home or in their chosen destination. People will commit but only if bookings are moveable.
· Scrap fixed above the line advertising. Commitments to above the line advertising mediums such as TV are difficult to scale back or even move once booked. Major companies will have to increase the focus on database marketing to previous bookers and unfortunately expensive but flexible mediums like Google search.
· Focus on immediate departures. Easier said than done but focus on bookings that bring in cash the fastest, which will be late availability deals to the Canaries etc in winter and early summer season departures for May- July 2022. As ever in a crisis, cash is king!
· Flexible staffing. Unpopular, but job sharing and flexible contracts are now a must assuming it’s unlikely that the UK Government will introduce sector-specific assistance now furlough has finished.
Undoubtedly, Omicron will be the last straw for many travel companies, whose balance sheets have been devasted over the last 18 months, but the survivors will emerge stronger and more flexible.