By Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO, Advantage Travel Partnership
It seems that the catchphrase of 2020 was ‘two steps forward, one step back’. Following the most challenging year our industry has ever seen, we found ourselves snookered by the tier four announcements and more than 40 countries banning travellers from the UK, due to a new strain of Covid-19. However, if 2020 has taught us anything – aside from being unpredictable – it’s that our industry is resilient. We have collectively stepped up to the challenge and managed exceptionally well given the enormity of the situation with not only the emotional fallout of the pandemic, but the stress and strain of processing refunds, repatriating passengers, the yo-yo effect of the air corridor list, a testing regime that is not yet fit for purpose, as well as total lack of sector-specific support from our government.
For months we have called out to government alongside our coalition partners and stressed the importance of a robust pre-departure testing scheme in place to reduce quarantine, but we know that while test and release is a step forward, it’s not the solution. The news of the vaccine created a spike in sales across the industry, which demonstrates there is still the appetite to travel and we are confident that with the right testing regime things would look a lot brighter for travel agents and their customers, giving people the reassurance that they can travel safely in the knowledge that testing has been undertaken en masse.
While there have been some issues with the initial launch of the test and release scheme, as testing becomes more prevalent within the industry and with many destinations adding this to their entry requirements, it remains critical that agents and tour operators can recommend and have access to accredited testing providers. We are working closely with several companies so that our members can offer this as part of their service and provide peace of mind for their clients.
The travel landscape has changed considerably since the outbreak of the pandemic, and travellers want to be able to pick up the phone and speak to someone that understands their needs and concerns. This is travel agents’ superpower which sets them apart from everyone else – their expertise and knowledge will be valued more than ever – the human agent. The travel industry will have to adapt its approach to dealing with clients and be more sensitive to the concerns they may have.
Many businesses have had to think creatively and pivot to meet the changing demands from customers and updates in government guidance. Flexibility will continue to be a deciding factor for many customers and travel businesses will need to cater to people’s needs, ranging from cancellation policies to developing new product. Last year many tour operators branched out and created new domestic product, and I think this trend of staying closer to home will continue in 2021, as customers regain their confidence to travel further afield.
Initially we thought that millennials would be first to start travelling again, but with many travel brands floating the idea of ‘immunity passports’, there is a chance that silver travellers will be eager to travel, particularly if they are one of the first groups of people to be vaccinated. We expect people may opt for familiarity and destinations they know and love as well as more isolated and ‘outdoor’ options. Equally, after a prolonged period of travel restrictions, many will be ticking those big bucket-list trips off their list – so travel agents can really take advantage of these trends when it comes to selling holidays.
Although we don’t know exactly what the future holds, the strength and determination that the industry has shown throughout 2020 will stand us in good stead. No one could have anticipated what has happened, but we have a vaccine, and we have the foundations of a testing system. At Advantage, we will be continuing to support our members and helping them to generate revenue so that they can begin to recover from the pandemic. We also intend to remain firmly focused on industry collaboration, further government lobbying and fighting the travel agents’ corner wherever possible. Our progress may not be linear, but even if we continue making two steps forward one step back, we will come out the other side stronger than ever.
By Zina Bencheikh, managing director EMEA, Intrepid Travel
As we enter 2021, there’s no doubt that people want to travel again, to visit their loved ones, immerse themselves in new cultures, meet new people and have unforgettable moments. As the travel industry, it’s our job to be there for them every step of the way. But travel has changed forever; and we must adapt to meet travellers’ new found needs.
Safety and flexibility will be key. More than ever, clients will want to know they are being looked after by their travel agent or tour operator, and that all Covid-19 health and safety procedures are in place. With more uncertainty ahead, flexible booking policies will be essential to give clients peace of mind that their hard-earned money is safe. For this reason, I see more consumers returning to their local travel agent seeking their trusted advice.
Of course, the industry has been turned upside down by Covid-19, but sadly, the long-term effects of climate change will prove to be far worse for the travel sector. As the world’s largest travel B Corp and a carbon-neutral travel company, we have focused our efforts on advocating for a responsible rebuild of the travel industry. We published a guide to decarbonising your travel business and created an animal welfare policy tool to help other travel companies operate more responsibly in future.
We also took the significant step of committing to Science Based Targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions at the pace and scale that science says is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This will see emissions reduced across our operations and supply chains, including moving to lower carbon alternatives on our trips and adopting renewable energy in all our global offices by 2025. We’re proud to be the first global tour operator to achieve this – but we don’t want to be the only one. The whole industry needs to take meaningful action on climate as a critical priority in travel’s post-Covid recovery.
Closer to home travel is a trend we saw take off during the pandemic and we expect that to continue in 2021. We launched our first range of local trips in June 2020 and we have doubled it in size for this year. Clients told us they loved seeing their country from a new perspective and supporting local communities affected by the pandemic. Active travel is also one to watch for 2021. Walking and cycling were a lifeline for many of us last year and people want to continue their hobby on holiday. Many clients are also ready to tackle that challenge they’ve always dreamed of – Everest Base Camp trek and Peru’s Inca Trail have consistently been among our top-selling trips in recent months.
Wilderness may just be the new wellness for 2021. Our bookings show a strong demand for all of types of wilderness experiences. Time outdoors after a year defined by lockdowns and increased screen time is more important than ever. Of course, Antarctica is the ultimate wilderness experience and we’ve seen a fantastic response to our first season of Antarctica Expeditions launching at the end of this year.
Last but not least, private group and tailor-made travel is a stand-out opportunity for agents in 2021. Intrepid has seen a 120 per cent increase in global search traffic for its private groups web pages in the past six months. For example, extended families travelling together to celebrate a special occasion with a visit to the Galápagos Islands or the polar regions, or special interest groups planning their next adventure.
Last year was tough in so many ways. But one positive was that it highlighted the importance of relationships in our industry. I’d like to say a big thank you to our agent partners for all your support. We’re excited to work with you to help travellers explore the world once again.