Kate Harris from Inspire Travel, David McDonald from World Travel Lounge and Diane Coleman from Tickets Travel discuss if the industry has turned a corner in its battle to rebuild business amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And then the FCO Spanish Travel ban hit!,
Members of the public are presuming that travel agents are very busy because of the extensive press coverage around the opening of travel corridors, etc. The reality is that the market is still very slow and even though many travel agencies have reopened their doors on the High Street, footfall is still very low.
Quotation requests are starting to come in but only very few materialise and mostly for short-haul holidays in summer 2021.
Long-haul holidays and cruise holidays are not on the customer's radar yet and some fear that the FCO's latest travel advice against taking cruises and now against travel to Spain may be the last nail in the coffin for the industry.
People are nervous booking for winter 2020-2021 as many suspect a second spike of COVID-19 in the near future.
On the basis that around 50% of confirmed bookings are for holidays in the UK, sales staff urgently need to brush up on their knowledge of the country. Up until now, domestic holidays we never a focus for the majority of tour operators and there is a clear lack of knowledge and confidence showed by most sales staff.
Customer's confidence also needs to be nurtured back and this can be helped by educating them so that they understand what the "New Normal" is in their holiday destinations too. That being said, the constant changes in rules and regulations means that messaging can be confusing and off-putting as there is still a great level of concern around travel insurance policies and quarantine measures.
The economy needs to get back on its feet and ultimately wearing a mask is going to help a faster recovery. However, the compulsory wearing of masks will make sales staff jobs more difficult as they will no longer be able to gauge their customer's reactions and may start losing confidence themselves.
The current high volume of discounted holidays combined with a very low number of bookings means a huge loss of revenue for travel companies. Although this is very unlikely to happen, industry stakeholders should talk amongst themselves and agree on a no-discount policy to be adhered to by all. The alternative would be for travel agents to charge a booking fee towards their customer service and expertise however, this process will see many customers switching to booking direct.
There is still hope for a last-minute surge of bookings for this summer as the first lot of UK holidaymakers have already started their summer breaks and more families are flying out for the beginning of the school holidays. Thanks to the power of social media these "pioneers" will have the power to convince many friends & family members that it is safe to travel.
To help confidence for late bookings, airlines should be more proactive by communicating their load factor - on the basis that most flights (with the exception of those going to Spain?) are far from flying to full capacity and therefore more conducive to social distancing.
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