I had the most surreal travel experience last year when I took a repatriation flight to be reunited with my partner. It felt like a scene out of some weird zombie apocalypse movie. Picture being loaded into buses accompanied by the flashing blue lights of an armed police convoy. A dark barricaded airport, replete with sniffer dogs and a single light illuminating one counter in a vast echoing terminal. I joined the slew of masked bodies sitting on the floor in a completely shuttered departure lounge waiting to see if the flight would indeed take off.
As bizarre as this all was, what really struck me during this whole experience was the abrupt pre-flight communication from the airline which basically said "bring your mask, bring your sanitiser and good luck." As you can imagine, this did little to assuage the uncertainty I felt flying during Covid. What I wanted more than anything from the airline was to allay my fears (as rational or irrational as they may be) so that I could trust in flying. Trust in them. Trust in travel again.
What I have learnt from the different ways tourism is recovering globally is that this concept of trust goes far deeper than that. What we are actually seeing is that T.R.U.S.T is the disruptor that is going to define the future of travel post-Covid.
What do I mean by T.R.U.S.T you ask?
T – Tailoring
Covid has sparked a massive shift away from traditional travel norms of big group tours, city sightseeing, crowded attractions, big conferences, and business travel as we knew it.
R – Resident/Regional travel
It has also catalysed a major industry turnaround. International tourism has been knocked off its pedestal and in its place is the resident market followed by the regional market.
U - Undertaking uncertainty
We have also seen a change in client expectations of airlines, hotels, insurers, travel agents and operators, to provide money-back cancellation policies, free flexibility, guarantees, and contingency plans. Demand for these undertakings is unlikely to reverse which means travel companies have to consider how they manage the costs and risks of uncertainty on their books.
S - Standards
Covid recovery protocols have also created new hygiene, health and quality standards for airlines, accommodation and travel providers globally. There has also been an increasingly vocal call for travel to restart following new norms of sustainability which is likely to result in the creation of additional industry and destination regulations.
T - Technology
The need to limit human contact has also leapfrogged the adoption of contactless customer service systems. And while hotels have been the natural early adopters it is only a matter of time before airports, airlines and rental agencies follow suit.
What does this mean for you going forwards?
What is exciting about these travel disruptions is that they lend themselves to innovation that can quickly set you apart in the market. There are a myriad of ways that you can you leverage this to your advantage to not only recover but grow your business or destination.
The following are just a few examples:
For travel operators who are struggling to cater to the resident or regional market: Consider curating self-drive or guided small group off-the-beaten track experiences that help people discover new parts of their own country in unexpected ways.
For corporate travel companies: While business travel may be constrained for some time, opportunities abound to cater to the emerging market of remote workers looking for workcations.
For travel agents: The time is ripe for you to take advantage of new client demands to undertake travel bookings that give your clients complete peace of mind.
For hotels: As we move towards a more contactless world, your ability to create human connection through personalised customer touch points is going to become even more important in setting your brand apart from your competition.
For airlines: The extent to which you can build consumer confidence is going to become the key differentiator. The simple addition of chat bots in your booking and 'manage my flight' platform will help you answer FAQ at the click of a button 24 hours a day.