Bubbles, branding & best laid plans
Welcome to our fifth media and communications newsletter, designed to help you track travel- and coronavirus-related developments that continue to affect our industry at large.
Across the globe, efforts have been made to:
- first contain the coronavirus (detecting early cases, establishing contact with the infected person); then
- to delay its spread (cancelling large events, closing schools); and finally
- to mitigate it (enacting social distancing measures and lockdowns to try to flatten the curve and not overwhelm the healthcare system).
Now, nearly six weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, governments and organizations are beginning to map out possible recovery plans for a post-mitigation phase, giving us a glimpse of what the “new normal” for tourism could look like.
On April 16, the government of New Zealand released details of what a downgrade from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 will look like once certain conditions are met, which includes opening up some schools and workplaces, permitting gatherings of up to 10 for funerals and wedding ceremonies, and allowing household “bubbles” to expand to reconnect with close family.
Some countries, such as Germany, Spain, Norway and South Korea, have begun taking steps to relax the restrictions set in place weeks ago, albeit cautiously, with many others looking towards the same goal.
In the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a phased strategy on April 16 for reopening parts of the country’s economy – a plan that has states divided over their support.
So, what do these plans for lifted restrictions mean for the travel world? For one thing, our industry’s ability to operate is contingent on worldwide government guidance. For another, failure to critically assess the flurry of expert advice flooding the internet could mean a relapse, or “second wave” of the virus, pushing us further from recovery. And while we still don’t know when these plans will be put into place (or scrapped altogether), or when international travel may become a reality again, there is something travel brands can ask themselves in lieu of a clear way forward:
How might the travel industry change post-mitigation, and are new operational restrictions and shifting consumer mindsets an opportunity for meaningful growth?
Below is our weekly roundup of news, expert insights and food for thought about how to continue to position your brand as we start to – slowly – crawl towards the first steps of renewal. If you can’t access an article due to a pay wall, let us know and we may be able to send it through to you.
Stay safe and healthy,
Your friends at Bannikin
The week at a glance
Tuesday, April 21:
- Intrepid Travel denies customer refunds after backdating a new company policy
- US Travel estimates COVID-19 impact 9 times worse than 9/11
- New Zealand’s lockdown contained coronavirus. Now comes the hard part
Monday, April 20:
- Coronavirus: Germany relaxes shop closures
- Business travel has stopped. No one knows when it will come back.
- India coronavirus lockdown: What stays open and what stays shut
- Planning for the hotel opening, coronavirus be damned
- Last 3 cruise ships still sailing set to finally dock
- TAT introduces “Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA” certification
Sunday, April 19:
- Bob Iger details what’s needed to reopen Disney parks
- Middle East tourism fair in Dubai cancelled over coronavirus
- India says no decision yet on easing or lifting flight restrictions
Saturday, April 18:
- These numbers show COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry
- Delta extends customer flight credits for up to two years
- Tourism operators hope more relief on the way
Friday, April 17:
- Moored in a fragile paradise: Hundreds of boaters stuck in the Caribbean have converged on the U.S. Virgin Islands
- Covid-19 update: Number of new cases in New Zealand drops to eight, but two new deaths
- In an age of coronavirus, airlines’ ‘Mr. Fix-It’ says the industry’s future depends on convincing travelers it’s safe to fly again
- Cathay Pacific to lay off nearly 300 cabin crew in US, calling bases in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles ‘no longer viable’
Thursday, April 16:
- Emirates Airline begins conducting rapid COVID-19 tests for boarding passengers
- Fiji’s colossal tourism sector faces catastrophic impacts from coronavirus
- What the travel industry wants from the next round of U.S. government relief
- US Travel announces cancellation of IPW 2020
- Brazil’s Bolsonaro fires health minister after virus dispute
Wednesday, April 15:
- Tourism Minister warns international travel ban could extend to 2021
- Emergency declared in Japanese prefecture hit by 2nd wave of coronavirus infections
- Taiwan reports no new coronavirus cases for first time in a month
- Bill Gates believes travel for work will never be the same after the coronavirus: ‘There are a few things, like business trips, that I doubt will ever go back’
- The countries gradually lifting COVID-19 lockdowns
- Carnival CEO optimistic cruising will return, cites ‘strong’ 2021 bookings
- Royal Caribbean sheds 26% of U.S. workforce as coronavirus hits travel
Tuesday, April 14:
- WHO officials say it’s unclear whether recovered coronavirus patients are immune to second infection
- French borders and territories closed until May 11
- UK’s Heathrow Airport sees passenger numbers down 90% in April
- COVID-19 puts over half of 2020 passenger revenues at risk
- eMarketer expects US search ad spending to decline due to the coronavirus
What the media is saying…
NBC News – The coronavirus will change how we travel. That will probably be good for us.
Snippet: After all of the industry’s lip service to “sustainability” we now have a chance to implement a truly “sustainable” travel industry. Broad global standards and protocols must be put in place, and a different travel industry built with them in mind. Travel and tourism need to accept their role in climate change, global economic impact, environmental sustainability, wildlife conservation and social justice.
AFAR – Will We Be Able to Travel This Summer?
Snippet: Predictions for how and when travel will return—and what it will look like when it does—run the gamut. Some think we will see travelers start heading out this summer, others predict that it could take much longer before travelers feel confident to explore the world again. But what most sources appear to agree on is a gradual return to travel that will at first be focused on journeys much closer to home.
- How much travel demand will come back?
- When will it return to its pre-virus levels?
- Will demand patterns, including the split between business and leisure travel demand, be different than before?
- How will the entire travel experience, from shopping for services to the quality of services delivered, be different?
The answers are all interlaced because all the factors that figure into the formation of demand – price, capacity, and the perceived value of the various aspects of the travel experience — are all highly variable as well as intricately intertwined and interdependent. But one thing, though is for sure. Travel demand will return.
What experts are saying…
Skift Report – 5 Ways Travel Brands Can Manage Customer Engagement in Times of Crisis
TL;DR: 5 steps travel brands can take to put a customer engagement strategy in place:
- Listen to your customers – engaging with customers during this time means responding in real-time to your customer needs, even if that requires a quick pivot.
- Empower your employees – front-line employees must still have the ability to access the latest information needed to assist customers, even if they aren’t physically working in the same place or with the same technology.
- Assess your customer engagement tools – embed communication tools onto your website/mobile app to enable real-time engagement and handle increased inquiry volume.
- Enable self-service capabilities – focus on AI tools such as dynamic search bars and chatbots to help customers find answers for themselves, lessening the burden on your customer service team.
- Optimize and centralize your knowledge base – make sure your self-service tools, FAQs and updated policies are somewhere central that both your employees and customers can access.
TravelPulse – Americans Still Optimistic About Travel in 2020
TL;DR: Research in an ongoing study monitoring travel sentiments found that:
- 77 percent of respondents said that they were sticking to their travel plans between June and December 2020 as long as their hometowns or travel destinations were not under quarantine, and
- 42 percent said that they would not be changing their destination.
- 32 percent said that they would now avoid big cities and public transportation and favor parks and the outdoors, and
- 44 percent said that they would change their international destination to a domestic one in 2020.
Event Manager Blog – Coronavirus and Events: Outlook and Recovery Timeline
TL;DR: The restrictions surrounding COVID-19 have caused major damage to the events industry. When evaluating when events will be able to be rescheduled, the following assumptions can be made:
- Immunity tests cannot be implemented at events – this would seem discriminatory and very risky
- App tracing is also irrelevant for the event industry
- The possibility of a resurgence of cases will continue to damage the events industry
- Making baseline predictions based on China’s timeline of recovery does not work
The events industry is currently predicting that:
- Large meetings will suffer for the next six to nine months
- We are just ending the first stage in the “postponement cycling” and now entering the second phase, with events originally scheduled for July to September being postponed
- There will be no events so long as there is uncertainty
Communications & COVID-19 content
While it may not be time to advertise the way your brand is changing amidst COVID-19, it’s a good time to start thinking seriously about how your operations may change due to government regulations, and how your brand can think creatively and stand out from the crowd in the post-mitigation phase– while actively demonstrating that guest safety is top priority.
With a strong spotlight on travel throughout this pandemic, and not always in a positive way, travelers may be questioning the hygiene processes of travel brands long after international restrictions are lifted. For example, EasyJet is considering giving up middle seats, even when restrictions are lifted, and Singapore established a “SG Clean” designation to certify hotels, attractions, and retail businesses have put extra sanitization measures in place.
This week, think about actions your business may be able to take to reassure your future guests that you are committed to their comfort, and critically examining your operations for the long term. Is there a way to be more creative with your operations beyond increased sanitation measures and health checks? What are the types of things you will look for in your own travels, and is it possible to put them in place for your clients?
If it feels appropriate (this will depend on your current rapport with your clients in general), consider sending a survey to clients to gauge their own post-mitigation concerns and comfort levels directly. Asking for their input will not only give you a purposeful reason to engage with your clients down the line, but it will also give them a sense of connection to the evolution of your brand. This part of the reimagination process will likely be emotionally-based, so being in touch with your own comfort levels and the comfort levels of those around you will be key.
Furthermore, communicating these operational changes with your clients throughout the forthcoming phased lifting of travel restrictions will be crucial in maintaining a level of trust and transparency, showing that the safety and wellbeing of your guests really does come first, even if it shakes up your operational model.
Keep in mind for the week ahead
While no recovery/reopening plans are set in stone and most experts agree North America is a long way from the end of the mitigation stage of COVID-19, after a month and a half of total unknowns, we’re finally getting some semblance of an idea of what the next stage will look like.
With the main focuses of re-opening societies being local services, particularly childcare centres, international travel recovery is still a faraway goal – but domestic travel may be something that comes back sooner. Over the next week, consider ways you can reach your domestic market so you can be ready when the first phase of travel becomes available. Not only might this be a new market for your company, but you may also be able to develop different products and experiences that appeal to local, driving-distance travellers that will help you expand your services.
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