Wanting or not the pandemic put us in front of the crude reality. Whatever we do, we cannot see in advance what each of our action will bring to us in our future.
NB: This is an article from Aizhana Zhamtuarov, Sales & Revenue Consultant at Hotelperformance
All of our previsions are based on the pattern of reaction we had, and the world had in the past.
In the travel industry, even the most stable sector, commercial aviation, crumbled in front of a health emergency. Flight companies were for most of us an idyllic standard to reach, an imagine of the smooth income. Where the people were almost forced to accept without any choice the perfect machine of the commercialism. The best business in the capitalistic society, that united the whole world.
The empty airports will be most probably the picture imprinted in future textbooks of our children. And many are comforted to think about a future moment when “everything will be back to normal”.
As hoteliers, travel agents, digital nomads and globe trotters, we know well, that the normal promised by different media or government reps, it never truly exists.
We should be the first one to know how to adapt and survive in the world full of uncertainty and teach others how take risks.
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The truth is the growth of the last 10 years of the leisure travel industry, made us too laid down in our own world. We not used to take the right risk and calculating the right jumps to make.
Different lockdowns made it easy for many to find excuses to just work less and stay at home and bake bread. Really few used the opportunity to grow and to work on bettering their actual position in the industry, and to find new solutions to the changing exterior world.
August gave a lot of ease in every local place in the legislations, and in the end some of the travel agents managed to sell both hotels and entire packages with flights and stays. Can you see yourself as one of the winners who managed to make some income, even to keep the little boat going, or did you summit to your ow lies?
Did the cuts of the pays and working places were made in a way to increase future incomes and to be really ready for the new normal, or did you do it just to not feel so much loss?
So, let’s see some of the questions raised from the beginning of the openings until now with neutral eyes, and honestly position ourselves as leaders of the industry or spectators and lousy crowd.
Did you start your first encounter with Covid-19, by giving the possibility to your guest to rebook another moment their planned stay? Did you accept the request of your partners to cancel some bookings free of any surcharge, as per force majeure?
Or were you the smart one that knew how to get the penalty charges from each of your bookings, in order to make any type of profit? The same profit that would keep you comfortable during the crisis and pandemic
Did you advise your partners that you will be opening as the first possibility would come, or did you send a really doubtful statement? Were you ready to welcome your guests and very prompt to find responses to some of the queries they might have, in the uncertain times? Even if it meant you would need to accept some loss, both in time and money?
Or were you the more careful one and wanted to see how many bookings would be actually confirmed, and used the situation as an excuse to eventually cancel on your guest last minute?
Did you try your best to adapt to the new normal and went above and beyond to research with the health providers the best way to be safe, but also to give a nice experience for your guest? Did you try to discover all the different methods to provide your guest with the testing procedures, discuss with you government about the possible solutions and new approaches?
Or were you the ones to wait for the final decision, the one that was truly staying in place, to make a move. Were you expecting “them” to give you the response on how and to when, giving all the fault to “them” if the replies were not arriving fast enough?
Did you approach the arrival of the guest knowingly that even if they started complaining, more probably they understood that the bad situation was not created by you or your resort, but were just finding in you a mean to express their frustration?
Or did you expect that all the guest would be unreasonable, just because of ignorance, so you could ignore even the reasonable complaints?
While everyone tried to put together all these questions and answers, the more successful Hotel resulted in the ones that accepted the challenge and risked to fail, but still tried to continue their business without stopping. This is not meant to give credit to the old “hard work” narrative, but to prompt an action, when others are too scared to move. Because everyone can put hard-work, but it is really worth it if you are digging in a quick sand.
To get a better idea, let’s see some of the new tactics that the strongest hotels, that managed to arise put in place during their first response.
1. Flexing Advance Purchase Rate – The possibility to book a stay with an easy cancellation or rebooking, gives a sense of ease to the guest. They don’t feel the pressure of the spent money, as they would with normal booking procedure. Many of the people have actually managed to save during the lockdown and pandemic, and families can actually see from their budgets, that a travel can be done. But a lot of them worry more for their spending’s, because they don’t know what emergencies they will encounter in the nearby future. So, a trip booked in the next month or two, can give them an oasis of hope, that will make the overwork and restriction easier to follow. At the same time a booking without penalties, or big charges in negative scenarios, will not make that little beautiful dream a guilty pleasure they will feel bad about for months.
2. Good messaging for the reopening – A clear response to the common questions is the key to become a trustworthy hotel for your guests. We are so used to sell dreams and paradise stays; we don’t think how much it impacts the way we send all of our messages. This time is more important for us to become more specific, and use our language to create a picture of what to expect from the visit to the guest. Clear procedures, clear response to the request that local policies put on us, clear reply to more asked questions is the key. It would be easy to copy and paste the health agencies created and spread to all the governments pages. This would give the responsibility of the wrong interpretation to the reader, and to the final guest, and easy to eventually not get any trouble assigned to you. But it would also make you fall down in the eyes of the guest, and loose the possible loyalty to you. Here also try to state clearly which of your services can keep their normal function, and which can be hold down or unavailable. Don’t delete entirely the service pages and information, as it could cause confusions.
3. Keep the focus on the local clients and/or the clients that have an easy access to your country. While before the rate and pricing were revolving around certain markets, where some guest was given a discounted rate based on precedent arrivals from the country. Now, with ever changing border closures, the portfolio of your clients can drastically change. Many hotels of paradises were before focusing on Europe, and European focused more on the American tourists. Today the immigration officials tend to base their decisions on who to let enter their country and who not, by the number of serious cases of contagion in given areas. Thus, can change from one week to another, but can be expected, if your sales team keeps an eye on the various preventive policies taken by different Countries. For example, not many Maldivian hoteliers awaited the Russians to take over the market in the month of August and September, instead they were waiting for a strong wave of European tourists. It was easily expected if you looked how the local government were passing the message to their citizens during the lockdown. Europe gave a big accent to keep the local business running, while Russia and other CIS markets, were trying everything to show how they could win over the virus. Even releasing now, a second prototype of the Vaccine.
From the one that any passerby can find in the streets of your city, to the big representative, that bring certain countries to other destinations, to the management companies that work for specific destinations. The industry is full of them. And while many consider them a meaningless reseller, that take a share from both the client and the final provider, they actually make a good job of PR of the industry.
Without them, many would not even think that many places exist, more over to visit in our world. Love them or hate them, you know that if you need a hotel sold in a certain part of the world, they will do a fantastic job on putting the spot on your business.
While most of the outlets are showing a dark era for the Travel agents, we can argue that it just speeded up the process we clearly saw of selection of the sources.
While from 2003 to 2018 the agent saw a growth in bookings, and the birth of different new agent. The latest years prior to COVID-19, saw a death of many, even crucial names of the industry (see more recently Thomas Cook). Yes, the pandemic, lockdowns and border closure brought a fast decimation of the worker places and saw many more closing their outlets and proclaiming bankruptcy. The ones that kept their ground, saw which parts were crucial for their work, and what could’ve been approached differently.
Here truly we saw that the solution needed are not of equality, but of equity.
What category of work was crucial to ensure the fluidity of the workflow, is it better to have a nine-to-five workers, or the ones that can be calculated in base of the goals reached and what can be outsourced for cheaper?
The agents that remained stable, are easily the ones whose directors are not focusing only on to how reach the budget today, but the ones that are planning ahead for the next year travelers. They are not scared to lose the company, because they know that they have the keys to survive. They are putting themselves in front lines, and have a team they believe strongly in. This gave a new image in the eyes of the consumers and partners. They became a reliable source, that was not just taking a share without chipping in anything. They were the ones that cushioned the hit from both of the sides.
We can argue, that they survived thanks to their dimensions in the market, their financial stability, but how can you explain then the ones that entered just a couple years ago in a thriving industry, and grew thanks to the use active search of new ways to serve the industry? So, during a difficult time of the pandemic they didn’t lose their malleability, and stayed in search of the new ways to stay afloat.
Let’s see below some of the examples of the survival of Travel agents.
1. Adventures created ad hoc to your clients – Isn’t it true that many people forced in a lockdown, imagined themselves breaking out to some remote places? Some agent, even opened a new business based on this idea. Losing a job could mean also not being tied up for a period to a place, bringing out the joy to spend the time at your terms. With the rise of social media, there was also many travel influencers, that inspired many to one day become a nomad, or to explore the world given to us. The pandemic gave a moment to take a moment to do it. The main difficulty, could be the misinformation and the lack of expertise. Here enters a new type of travel agent, that bases his expertise on the old style of this work. (www.stokebroker.com )
2. The messenger and the translator for travelers and destinations – While the Hotels try to explain better the actual situation and various actions of the local government, not always its an easy task. They still need to maintain the selling of their stays as the main priority. This making difficult for them to cover each type of questions and little procedures, that can touch documents and other formalities. Here is where we see a good Agent in action. Translating the formal speech in actions can be only possible if you are both fluent in interpersonal relations and problem-solving expertise. Here is the moment that the job recruiters could see if the beautiful words many of us write in our CV are truthful or not. On a serious note, here is where all the fidelity work, we made on our clients are coming handy. You know how to explain any moments in a way that the clients feel secure of their travel, the same way in the past you convinced them to spend the money with your company. The clients are traveling because they know you, and feel your presence and help in case they are in a foreign country. You become the friendly face, that also knows the easy steps to pull them out if sticky situations.
3. The birth (or better growth) of automated helpers and recalibration of the work force – The Virus made the communication impossible or impractical. The fear of being infected or infect someone who is so much more at risk, makes direct contacts more challenging. Many offices close, and the rise of Smart-work from home, created also a need for faster technologies. Many of which existed before, but were not applied, because of the fear of the machine. An external automatized service could be a solution for the agents that were doing it through manual labor, for cutting budget. Other started developing an easier way for tourist to communicate with locals, and solve their emergencies (www.be-spoke.io).
Now we can end by saying that if you played safe in this beginning of a new era, you played yourself by not entering the game at all.
From the beginning of the time we started traveling to discover, find new ways and approach life differently. This meant taking risks, even big ones. Players in the travel industry should never forget that we were the first one to react when the others were stuck. Never forget that by choosing the travel and hospitality lifestyle, we chose a risky life, where we give comfort to others.