What tour operators need to do to prepare for 2021
The moment is now.
Just as the world had wrapped its head around the absence of international travel and adapted to a new kind of normal, announcements from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca that their coronavirus vaccine trials are progressing at a rapid pace, has sent the global community into a frenzy. As if overnight, the tourism industry has shaken free of skepticism that travel wouldn’t return until at least 2022 and become the talk, or should we say mad buzz, of media outlets far and wide. Triggering shockwaves of excitement for travellers and tourism professionals alike, the enormity of this announcement has come when many countries are also slowly reopening their borders to international travel – a double nod to travel resumption.
For those in the tourism industry, it’s as Christmas has come early with the possibility of a vaccine on the near horizon, select borders reopening and the validity of tourism being given a huge boost simultaneously by significant increases in market shares. From airlines to cruise companies, monetary confidence has been spread across all corners of the industry and signals the rebirth of travel.
Like any festive celebration, although anticipation levels may be peaking, unless a large amount of care goes into the preparation, logistics and security for the return of travel, tour operators will fail to hit the mark with adventure-hungry travellers. With all signs pointing to an imminent start to the recovery of the industry, the moment is now for tour operators to take action. While many may have wound operations right down over the quiet period, now is the time that tourism businesses should be shifting up a gear and readying themselves for an influx of tourists following the havoc caused by COVID-19.
Sometimes the best way to prepare for something, is just to be in the know. For the overthinkers among us, knowledge is power and can reduce a huge amount of unnecessary tension and concern. We would like to think that if you are fully up-to-date with the predicted trends set to hit in 2021, then your chosen response as a business owner is 100% your responsibility. Although the future may seem scary, a tour operator’s ability to stay across the restrictions, concerns, trends and changes that are influencing the travel industry, is the optimum kind of preparation.
We realise that there is a huge amount of information out there, and some of which is very contradictory, so accessing accurate information from legitimate sources on a daily basis is essential. To help you best stay alert, aware and across everything that is shaping and twisting the tourism industry in the immediate future, we recommend considering utilising the following:
✓ Subscribe to national and regional tourism organisation newsletters to truly keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your immediate vicinity.
✓ Check in with reputable tourism news websites who offer timely updates on global tourism news and trends. See our list of trustworthy sites here.
With staying cognisant of tourism trends and news ticked off the list, the next element of preparation is planning. The rest of this year, well what’s left of it, is all about planting seeds that will grow and flourish in 2021 when travel returns, and thorough planning will lay the foundations for this.
While planning can offer great peace of mind to staff and provide a sense of direction, it also enables tour operators to have all of their bases covered when it comes to the safety, wellbeing, health and happiness of their customers. Scenario planning and forward thinking in a COVID-19 environment is a no brainer as the changing expectations of travellers demands more comprehensive thought into the likes of bubble travel, social distancing and hygiene measures. Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, feel confident and comfortable in what you can offer to tourists if restrictions alter slightly or their demands are more outrageous than pre-pandemic times.
When it comes to planning for 2021 you should think about all aspects of your business. How are you going to approach marketing? What messages would you like to communicate to potential, current and past customers? What policies are you going to implement? Are they any physical changes that need to be made to your tourism experience? What are the different things you will do if things change dramatically overnight? Having a systematic plan is important when it comes to sustaining your business through economic hardship, and so too is being able to immediately locate and communicate with travellers from a particular region. By utilising knowledge from reputable sources, you will be able to shape strategic plans that will help you soar in popularity when travel returns in the coming year.
Amidst all of the chaos of 2020, transparency has become all the more imperative. We think that it is important for tour operators to be open and honest with their staff, in particular, about their plans as they will be a big part in pulling it off. The same sentiment, perhaps not to the exact level, can also be extended to customers so that they are fully trusting of the business and the steps that are being taken to ensure that their travel is taking place in a safe and COVID-19 aware manner. To guide you in the right direction when it comes to planning, our Survive to Thrive Checklist walks you through the exact things to consider during these times.
This pandemic has necessitated a dramatic shift towards digitisation, especially in the tourism sector. The focus and craving for digital assistance in the industry has been one that has been slowly seeping into everyday activities over the past few years, however the move towards this has accelerated at an unbelievable pace in 2020. The likes of digital automation and virtual experiences are here to stay as the industry battles to reduce peer-to-peer contact, improve safety standards and get people dreaming about travel at a time where it simply isn’t possible.
The sheer size of this trend is apparent as governments around the world have been feeding extra resources to the industry in the hopes that they will adapt and keep up with the newly formed demands from travellers. The OECD has in fact noted that nations are strengthening their digital capabilities and embracing this shift to prepare for the new future of tourism with the likes of Greece offering training platforms for tourism professionals to upskill in this area. With government bodies leading the charge, tour operators need to jump on the technology bandwagon to prepare for travelling in 2021.
By preparation we mean, taking stock of your current processes, assessing every consumer touchpoint and seeing where technology can truly make a difference and improve the touristic experience. Whether it be shifting to cashless payments, contactless check-in, introducing an app, improving online presence or sending digital itineraries, each tourism business has something to gain from the help of technology.
With the early arrival of a vaccine looking extremely promising, tour operators need to gather their strength, resilience and power to rally once again and deliver impressive travel experiences to international travellers. While the past year may have paved out a new normal for many where skeletal staff and reduced hours were non-negotiable, the industry as a whole is being challenged to work in this leaner way going forward.
The old adage, ‘good things come in small packages,’ perfectly paints the positive aspect that has come out of this trying time. Forcing the tourism industry to work leaner, the pandemic is also encouraging everyone to work smarter and build stronger foundations for the future – which can bring nothing but good to the travel sector. Instead of being confined to one department, a smaller workforce is seeing employees dip their toes into multiple facets of a business and become supercharged with invaluable business knowledge. Although this provides immense flexibility and value to companies, it is up to tour operators to prepare for the predicted return of travel and stay in tune with the feelings and viewpoints of employees. Tour operators should be asking key questions such as, are my employees happy in this new normal, are they highly engaged with the success and vision of the business, and are they skilled for the job(s) they are now doing, to ensure that everyone is ready to go when tourism takes off.
Staying cognisant of the strengths and weaknesses of a refined workforce is especially true with the World Travel & Tourism Council noting that 68% of the tourism workforce will need to re-skill in response to digital transformations that have come about from the pandemic. By cultivating an openness or a devotion to development, businesses should be investing in people, and things that will stay with them for a long time. It may come in the time of form, energy or money, but whatever the investment type is, the key is to get it underway now and reap the rewards in 2021.
When thinking of things that will stay with a company for a long time, robust, agile, tour operator software should be at the top of the list for essential preparation. Many of us have seen our teams decimated to the point where many businesses are surviving with just a few key personnel. As each person leaves your business so too does years of experience, knowledge and valuable customer relationships not to mention aspects of your intellectual property. What can we learn from this? While investing in talented people is extremely important and valuable to any business underpinning this should be tour operator software you can rely on. Software that your team can invest in and contribute to so that without them your business can survive (almost anything) allowing your business to scale up and down in accordance with change.
As mentioned earlier, tourism is set to go digital and travellers will demand this in their every interaction with the industry. The way that travellers view itineraries is no different, and a comprehensive itinerary builder software will make a team feel stronger despite being leaner. Amping up the sheer speed of itinerary creation and enhancing the overall aesthetic, itinerary builder software is an investment that will pay dividends when travel returns.