The Future of The Travel Agency Business After COVID-19

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The World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) annual research shows that the Travel & Tourism sector not only accounts for over 10% of global GDP but for one in ten jobs on the planet, and one in four new jobs created globally in the last five years. COVID-19 has dramatically altered life as we know it and the Travel & Tourism sector is uniquely exposed. As we consider the impact of the crises, we realize it could fundamentally alter the future of the Travel Agency business.

David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group explains, “for travel consultants and advisors the challenges have been many, including the initial effort to address cancellations, refunds and rebooking, in many instances for little or no compensation, all of which further impacted by an amplified crisis that extends well beyond the travel industry.”

While we all navigate the multiple crises that have defined 2020, what we know for certain is that the power of human connection has never been more vital. The long-term prospect of the travel agency business is positive, with emphasis on the advisors who know their clients and provide expert consultation and support, making travel easier, more enjoyable, and more accessible. According to Deborah Haas, Vice President Travel Products and Services at AAA — The Auto Club Group, faced with uncertainty, the traveller seeks further support to navigate the changing landscape, and the role of the Travel Advisor becomes even more valuable and important to assist the traveller in making informed decisions.

In this article, we explore the implications of new trends for the Travel Agency business of the future.

HIGHLIGHTS

For Brett Tollman, CEO of The Travel Corporation, the Travel sector has been very fast and efficient on defining and implementing safety and hygiene protocols, and the future of travel advisors is bright once we emerge from this crisis. “A good example of 100% effective hygiene and disinfection is Premium Purity[i]– a solution containing only ionized salt and water, being implemented across two of our brands, as well as following all of WTTC’s global protocols,” says Brett.

The effectiveness of governments and regulators, who on a global basis must establish the threshold minimum standards and address quarantine restrictions and travel barriers to facilitate the return of travel, is critical, as well as the introduction of effective vaccines. In a recent Oliver Wyman Traveller survey[ii], 60% of travellers indicated they are waiting for the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments to lift restrictions before they travel post-COVID-19.

Consumers are anxious about travelling again and are looking to professional travel advisors for information on what is safe, what is open, which hotels have implemented enhanced hygiene measures, and they want an advocate there for them if something happens before, during or after their trip. At the same time, travellers are willing to adopt new processes, as for example, in a recent survey conducted by Global Rescue[iii], over 90% of respondents indicated they are willing to subject themselves COVID-19 screening and testing when they travel.

When it comes to opportunities, the most significant value proposition of travel agencies and travel advisors is effective customer communications. For some agencies, this is not that new. However, for most, the crisis has amplified the need for these efforts to be accelerated and accentuated. The real value of having a professional travel advisor has never been more evident than in the early days of COVID-19 when advisors performed great efforts to get their clients home and have worked throughout the year to assist travellers in adjusting plans as travel suspensions have been implemented and extended.

For the past few months and in the years ahead, travel agencies must continue to openly promote their value.

As we re-imagine the future of the Travel Agent, three trends are expected to lead the way through recovery and beyond:

1. The Traveller Behaviour

Some consumers are naturally fearful about travelling again as there is still so much uncertainty about COVID-19 and the differences in procedures across countries. In fact, according to an IATA survey[iv], more than 80% of travellers were as concerned about potential quarantine restrictions as they are about catching the virus during travel.

With respect to consumer desires, there is a need for information and trusted guidance. Expectations may be frequently translated into support from a travel advocate who is very familiar with all stages of the journey. This is the greatest opportunity for travel advisors to emphasize their role as a trusted resource, which becomes the most fundamental component of their value proposition. The human connection becomes more essential, and an added layer of service to support clients is now critical to help travellers to travel with confidence.

Safety comes first and traveller’s awareness of good practices in health and hygiene has and will continue to grow, influencing their expectations for travel. Even after a vaccine becomes available, the traveller is likely to remain more cautious of health issues going forward.

Travellers will remain wary in the short to medium term about the possibility of future outbreaks and their ability to get back home in case of a lockdown.

Though the longevity of these shifts is still unclear, the Travel & Tourism sector has a unique opportunity to rethink prevailing business models and considering its most asset: its people.

Recently, we launched a campaign looking at the social impact of the sector. Travelling means so much more than we realise, those memories we created are even better than how we remember them. The Travel and Tourism sector has a bigger benefit and positive impact on our lives and the local community than people realise. If your travels have changed your life and your community, share your stories using #togetherintravel #aworldofdifference.

2. The New Experience

Building customer confidence online is becoming increasingly important in travellers’ decision-making. With information gathering primarily taking place through online channels, businesses should not only make sure their own promotion and messaging is present, but also expand access to information through innovative formats and ensure clarity around cancellation policies[v].

Travellers will need confident access to the latest requirements for travel to their destinations, including health, data and travel insurance rules. Travel Agencies can provide tremendous value by providing up-to-date resources and helping travellers navigate choices.

A July 2020 survey of Virtuoso’s global advisors showed that while 43% were anticipating a slow recovery for travel with more than half of respondents saying recovery will take six months or longer, 53% optimistically view the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine the industry in terms of products and services. They also universally agreed at 83% that maintaining flexible cancellation and rebooking policies was key to restoring consumer confidence, particularly for international travel.

Read our report on the Future of Travel & Tourism: https://wttc.org/Research/To-Recovery-Beyond

3. Innovation & Technology

Amid stay-at-home orders, digital adoption and consumption are on the rise, with consumers now expecting contactless technologies, among others, as a basic prerequisite for a safe and seamless travel experience. “Our business has been moving towards automation,” explains Aileen Clemente, Rajah Travel Corporation Chairman & President, “not just for its online platforms but also for its processes.” Consequently, cybersecurity is becoming more important, particularly as remote work becomes the norm and as identities are digitised.

While digitisation has been an emerging trend within the Travel & Tourism sector in recent years, stay at home orders have led to digital acceleration with more consumers becoming adept at using technological solutions in everyday life including for online shopping and virtual meetings. Still, travellers remain cautious about cyber risks and data privacy; something which has become apparent with the emergence of contact tracing apps.

While innovation and technology are certainly important for the travel sector, the right human interaction is equally important. Particularly in a post COVID-19 world, personal relationships may be the way to go in many instances, to support the emotional component of travel. Matthew D. Upchurch, CEO, explains the rule they live by at Virtuoso. “Automate the predictable so that you can humanize the exceptional.”

We will likely see more use of virtual technologies to support the new normal. However, the emotional element is imperative.

Take a look at our Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey reports for more information: https://wttc.org/Initiatives/Security-Travel-Facilitation

Communication is Key

As businesses aim to reassure travellers that they have taken all possible steps to ensure high quality of service and safety, communication, and particularly marketing and positioning will be critical. Given travellers renewed interest in safety and hygiene, there is a need to provide travellers with easily accessible, digestible, accurate and timely information and facts and being open to answering questions to inform their decision-making.

THE PATH FORWARD

While the road ahead may appear uncertain; we anticipate that the challenges along the way, can and will be converted into opportunities by the Travel & Tourism sector.

Success will be defined by the ability to stay connected with clients; pivoting and adapting to reflect how consumers will want to travel in a post COVID world. The key is being flexible in all facets of the business and meaningfully engaging with consumers to validate our ability to advocate on their behalf and earn the “trusted advisor” status that will secure long term relationships.

The travel expert role is to overcome challenges and to make travel more accessible and enjoyable, thus inspiring travellers. The more operational tasks will be automated, and the human connection will make the experiences invaluable.

As the sector navigates these difficult times, WTTC pledges to support Travel & Tourism in achieving a full recovery.

Consumer Confidence — the WTTC Safe Travels Stamp

Just a few short months ago, WTTC revealed its ‘Safe Travels’ stamp, the world’s first global safety and hygiene stamp and this week, we welcomed the Philippines as our 100th destination.

The stamp, which was developed to help restore confidence in travellers and work to revive an ailing Travel & Tourism sector, is now also being used by 100 destinations around the world. From the Philippines to Portugal, Egypt to Turkey, the stamp enables travellers to recognise destinations around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardised protocols — so they can experience ‘Safe Travels’[vi].

Find out more: https://wttc.org/COVID-19/Safe-Travels-Global-Protocols-Stamp

Editor: Helena Bononi, WTTC Commercial VP, in partnership with AAA — The Auto Club Group, Ensemble Travel Group, Rajah Travel Corporation, The Travel Corporation and Virtuoso.

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Our mission is to maximise the inclusive and sustainable growth potential of the Travel & Tourism sector. Join the conversation #WTTC

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