How Tour Operators Can Best Prepare for the Future of TravelJuly 9, 2020 | By Kemi Adewumi
The good news
The good news is that the world is starting to recover from COVID-19. This is generally the case for most of the world, with some pockets in the US and abroad where infection rates are going in the wrong direction. BUT generally, countries are taking measures to restart their travel industries.
There are many opinions floating around about the future travel, whether it be solo, group, domestic, or international, but one thing is clear- travelers will need help navigating the world with all the new COVID-19 guidelines & protocols.
The not so good news
The not so good news is that international travel, especially for US citizens is still very limited and might be for some time. Right now countries in the Caribbean & Mexico are pretty much the main places where Americans can go if they want an international vacation. We’ve updated our article outlining which countries are opening when, and Kayak has a great map for current restrictions.
For those of us whose businesses depend on international travel, this is not what we want to hear. Weathering this Coronavirus storm will require our businesses to be lean, flexible, and transparent.
The Go Galavant team has compiled what we’ve read from trusted publications, what we’ve discussed with tourism boards, and what we believe will help.
What you can do
We mentioned the first few points in our “Helpful Resources for Group Trip Operators” email and blog post, but these are worth calling out again.
Domestic and regional travel will be your best bet in the near future. This is evident in the fact that air travel to Mexico & Canada is open, and the majority of the Caribbean islands are or will be open within the next week or so. Nearly all of the tourism boards we heard from stressed that they’re first focused on domestic travel, expanding to regional, and then finally including international travel- if the data stays in a safe zone throughout each phase.
You know your customers best, but don’t underestimate the allure of exploring your own backyard. Intrepid Travel, a large player in the group travel space, launched local tours to take advantage of this trend and is seeing positive results.
For international travel, consider more remote locations or “second city” destinations to avoid crowds. If your customers are up for an adventure of sorts, places like the Galapagos Islands are remote, not crowded, and beautiful.
To start out with, smaller group sizes will be best to help protect your travelers, their families, and the destinations that you’ll frequent. It will also be easier to abide by social distancing measures. Sisa Ntshona, CEO of the South Africa Tourism Board, stressed that “as we start to open our National Parks & attractions small groups, not large, will be welcomed”. We heard this sentiment echoed from various other tourism boards. Although what constitutes “small” is subjective, it’s safe to say that groups of 10 or less will be able to maneuver comfortably. G Adventures, a group trip operator known for its adventure tours, launched a new collection of small group trips to continue to service its travelers during these times.
Aside from group size, there aren’t any group travel-specific suggestions or recommendations. The precautions and regulations in place will apply to all types of tourists, but they are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and will provide group-specific information if needed.
If you’re able to move your trips to countries that are open, organize domestic trips, or you just prefer to focus on your 2021 trips there’s much you can do now to prepare your business and your travelers for the new face of travel post COVID.
What you should do
HAVE A PLAN
You’ve probably had plans in place to get your travelers aid if they fall sick or get injured, but this takes on a new realm now. If a traveler gets infected with COVID-19, know where and how to get them treatment, and what to do with the rest of your group that has come in contact with that person. Are there COVID specific hospitals or treatment centers? What are the protocols for quarantining? Are there designated hotels for COVID patients that don’t need hospitalization? What can I do if they insist on going home? You’ll need to work closely with local contacts to devise such plans.
BUILD TRUST & CONFIDENCE
A large part of getting travel back to where it used to be will be in easing the concerns of travelers. Preparing your business and being transparent about what that means to your travelers will go a long way in getting back some customers who might be on the fence about travel within the next 6-9 months. The World Travel and Tourism Council has health and safety protocols in place for all facets of the travel industry, including tour operators. Guidance in the document outlines operational and staff preparedness, how to deliver a safe experience, and rebuilding trust & confidence. They’re also implementing a “Global Safety Stamp” to “allow travelers to recognize governments and companies around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardized protocols”. Hotels, short term rentals, attractions, tour operators, and more will be eligible to apply for the stamp of approval.
Let your travelers know how countries and your vendors are preparing for their arrival. Most countries have extensive procedures in place for all parts of their travel industries. They’re also putting in a lot of work to educate their citizens so that everyone is taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread.
Ghana is working on rapid testing and is looking into a certification process for safety and health protocols. Zimbabwe has been conducting dress rehearsals to walk through exactly what it will be like for tourists when they arrive at certain attractions with new safety protocols in place.
Dimitria Chryssanthou from the Greece Tourism Board mentioned that upon arrival travelers are required to give contact information for tracing purposes, people are required to wear masks in all public transportation, and the country is doing random testing.
Lastly, be flexible with booking. Domestically, booking sites like Travelocity are seeing more last-minute bookings. Travelers are antsy to get out, but also leery to book in advance as they are not sure if government regulations will shift and prevent them from traveling. Last-minute bookings aren’t ideal for guided group trips, but allowing for some flexibility with trip changes, credits, etc will give your travelers the confidence they need to book.
HELP THEM HELP THEMSELVES
Governments and businesses are doing what they can to keep people safe, but your travelers also have a responsibility to do their part to keep themselves safe. Let your travelers know what they can control to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They can purchase travel insurance, have masks (operators should also have backups on hand), minimize face touching, and get tested before and after a trip.
According to Travel Weekly, despite this pandemic, as experienced trip operators, you have an advantage right now. You know your destinations, you have local contacts, and you provide a safety net to your travelers. Let’s plan ahead, communicate with our travelers, and be flexible- to get people safely doing what we all love- TRAVEL!