In the face of unprecedented chaos and disruption, travel agents have shown just how agile and resilient they can be. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March, the travel industry was one of the hardest hit by a sudden influx of customer issues for refunds, cancellations and bookings. As countries closed borders and airlines grounded flights, many stranded travellers turned to travel agents to get them safely home, writes Sebastien Gibergues, vice president of online travel, Asia Pacific, at Amadeus.
Now, as countries like Vietnam and Thailand ease domestic and international travel restrictions and look to lead the regional tourism revival in South East Asia, travel agents face a new set of challenges. While some people are itching to travel again and take advantage of bargains, many people are still hesitant, with new research by Phocuswire revealing concerns around the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and mobility restrictions. Negative customer experiences during this crisis can also cause long-term damage to a brand’s credibility.
In addition, many travel agencies in Asia are independent or small-to-medium businesses whose operations have been affected by the pandemic. Many travel agencies are facing financial hardship and have been forced to make cuts to staff and resources or shut down their operations temporarily. While governments have issued various stimulus packages to revitalize the travel sector, economic recovery will not be homogenous as different parts of the world fight to control the spread of COVID-19 on different timelines.
As the first travellers venture back on the roads and in the skies, travel agents that align their pricing strategy and booking policies with new traveller expectations around flexibility and personalisation will be in the best position to restore consumer confidence and secure their cash flow to service future demand. Here are some insights for travel agents to chart their course for recovery and inspire consumers to travel again.
Take the pulse of the market and evaluate your current positioning
Every local, regional, and international market is likely to recover differently, so it’s important to align your revenue strategy based on key indicators of what travel segments will pick up and when. For example, border closures, social distancing rules, and limits on large groups have been common government guidelines around the world. This suggests that local travel, such as short weekend getaways or regional road trips, are more likely to fuel bookings in the short term.
Leverage your data and partner with various trade organisations, tourism boards and technology providers to maximize your visibility into local market recovery. This could include forward-looking data, search volumes and potential future demand peaks caused by rescheduling of events and conferences. By analyzing potential and existing customers, competitor promotions and market demand, you can better address the evolved value chain and line up the right messages, offers and promotions at the right time.
Pair a flexible cancellation policy with irresistible options for rebooking
Many travel agents and airlines have waived cancellation and change fees or adjusted their booking policies to offer more flexible alternative to cope with consumer demand during this crisis. As the future of travel remains uncertain and as travellers require additional reassurances to travel again, travel agents should consider how they can combine a flexible cancellation policy with options for rebooking.
“Personalisation, reassurance and empathy”
The more flexible you are with your pricing strategies, the more competitive you will be. By giving travellers the ability to switch their bookings later and proactively notifying them during the booking process, travel agents can prevent clients from outright cancelling trips and reschedule business as much as possible. A policy that offers flexibility paid with a higher level of personalisation, reassurance and empathy, will have a lasting impact on a clients’ trust and loyalty and bolster their reputation.
Find new ways to innovate across offers, channels and packages
The more flexible and adaptable you are during this crisis, the stronger you will be in the long run. Now is a great time to look at new ways to innovate and drive differentiation through new products, channels or packages. Leveraging the right technology can enable travel agents to be flexible with traveller needs, their changes in travel plans, and ensure their health and safety through their entire journey.
Dynamic messaging and flexible digital marketing can help with switch-selling, while will be more effective for travel agents to personalise travel options. With travellers looking at new leisure travel options locally, domestic or intra-regional packages and diversification beyond air will be important. Work with your product, revenue and marketing teams to creatively assemble, price and promote these offers.
By having the right strategy, tools and people in place, travel agents can establish trust
Technology can also help travel agents facilitate post-sales servicing (refunds, exchanges or reissues) to optimise customer service and ensure stable day-to-day operations. Automated tools like Amadeus Ticket Changer can help travel agencies keep a record of all passengers affected by travel disruptions and handle schedule changes to better manage clients’ future travel plans.
As the travel industry looks towards recovery, the current crisis presents new opportunities for travel agencies to build brand value and awareness as travellers seek out increased quality assurances and flexibility in their rebooking and cancellation options. By having the right strategy, tools and people in place, travel agents can establish trust, restore confidence, and better position their business for future growth.