2020 has been a hard year across the board, but perhaps no industry has been hit as hard as the travel industry.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to put people off exploring the world, and while some businesses have found ways to entice people to follow their wanderlust, even industry titans such as Airbnb have felt the coronavirus pinch.
So, with a new year approaching, what can travel businesses do to convince people it’s not just safe to travel but that 2021 is the perfect year to make up for lost time (if that’s even possible)?
Take safety seriously
Safety will be the number one concern of all travelers as we enter another year with COVID-19.
Without precise and convincing safety measures in place, travel businesses can’t hope to attract anywhere near the kind of business they were pre-pandemic.
While there are people willing to take risks (a customer base you probably shouldn’t encourage right now), the majority of consumers will want to be assured of their safety throughout their trip.
That means hotels have to provide service from a social distance, holiday-goers will only find themselves in spaces that respect mask-wearing habits and all other precautions are being taken to avoid positive cases.
While assuring safety is one of the hardest parts of operating in a COVID world, it’s also the most important. This should be the starting point all businesses work back from.
Offer unique incentives
Travel, of course, is not limited to people going on luxury holidays.
Every year people spent a significant number of days traveling for work, an act that has also been mostly halted by coronavirus and the subsequent rise of video calls.
2021 will be a year where businesses will look to make up for lost ground, repair relationships and expand themselves beyond digital reaches.
For travel businesses to attract B2B opportunities, they need to both offer a safe experience and entice travellers with unique incentives.
While experience was once the selling point of business travel, with many using it as an excuse to eat at nice restaurants or experience local attractions, convenience may fill that role in a COVID travel world.
The key is finding industry specific perks and incentives. Car hires, for example, could offer customers a fuel card (never heard of them? Check out this selection from iCompario) when they use their business, giving them access to unique fuel deals and a more streamlined expenses system.
Alternatively, travel companies could offer businesses travel packages, giving companies the opportunity to wow clients safely in the knowledge they’re providing a COVID-safe experience.
Earning the trust and faith of the B2B consumer will be just as crucial as ensuring the average family vacation goes ahead, and going the extra mile might just be the key.
Consider new marketing strategies
Like most industries in our increasingly digitized world, travel has fully integrated itself with the monolith that is social media.
Spend a few minutes looking up flights, hotels or beachside activities and you’ll soon be bombarded with ream and ream of ads for travel companies during your next Facebook browsing sessions.
Yes, travel agencies and their competitors are no strangers to ‘shareable content’.
To combat the anxieties of COVID-era travellers we will likely only see an increase in these efforts. This increase could, in particular, be centered around social media influencers. These confident, reassuring and trusted voices have already been used to sell all kinds of products and services and being sent away to demonstrate the safety and enjoyment of a travel destination could be the next step. Travel influencers such as Our Next Flight will play a huge role in legitimising the services of particular businesses.
Influencers have passionate and highly loyal audiences, and winning over these consumers is much easier to do through a familiar face than a brand identity. Expect to see all your favourite Instagram celebrities receiving a lot of free holidays come mid 2021.
Accept more flexible terms
Living in such trying and unpredictable times, it’s important that businesses operate with heightened flexibility.
While important strides are being made towards a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, the challenges facing the travel industry won’t erode all at once. Certain countries will take longer to get a handle on the virus, while hotels, resorts and tourist traps will be forced to re-figure their services.
The travel industry on a whole must be willing to adapt to customer expectations and continually developing government advice. Following guidelines effectively and having the infrastructure to change operations on the fly will be the difference between a travel company that thrives throughout 2021, and one that shines bright before burning out.
In many cases this has already started. Luxury travel companies such as Audley Travel began offering customers the opportunity to cancel their flights up until two weeks before they’re set to take place in an effort to win back cautious optimists throughout 2021.
Likewise, travel businesses need to keep an eager eye on market trends, learning from localised institutions and how they’re updating their services to customer expectations.
The travel business faces a significant uphill climb throughout 2021, one that will define whether or not the industry survives in its present state.
Innovations and concessions are both inevitable and necessary. As eager as many customers are to start exploring the world again, they’ll need some coaxing out of the safety of their own homes.