OPINION: Playing a long game against the pandemic – book now, for travel later

write on paper at cork board

As I write this from Toronto where we’re in an extended lockdown, I can’t help be envious of those of you enjoying the heat of the Australian summer with relative freedom.

I also know that regardless of our individual situations currently, we have one thing in common as travel professionals: we are desperately keen to travel beyond our own borders. Recent research and increased booking numbers suggest our customers feel the same way.

The tourism industry has been inordinately impacted throughout this pandemic and, in the case of Australia, both state and international borders were closed.

While we must respect the decisions the government has made to keep its citizens safe, we cannot stand still as an industry and wait for travel to happen to us – we need to be proactive even when people can’t travel.

We know our way out of this pandemic comes down to vaccinations. In Australia, vaccinations have been brought forward to February, with the intention to have 80 per cent of people vaccinated by October.

What do we do in the meantime? Do we live in fear and wait, or do what we do best as travel experts and continue to inspire and connect with customers, knowing pent-up demand is continuing to build?

Our aim at G Adventures is to inspire, to promote a ‘book now, travel later’ mentality, and to continue to keep our promise to deliver life-changing experiences. As our founder, Bruce Poon Tip, says “we were born explorers”, so let’s not close the door to travel even temporarily.

With flexible booking terms and the changes we have made on tours to keep travellers safe, we are confident in our ability to answer any concerns our partners and travellers have, so we encourage agents to look beyond the current restrictions and keep communicating with their customers for long-term travel in late 2021 and into 2022.

The global vaccine news towards the end of last year gave us all a boost of confidence in terms of understanding the level of pent-up demand that is out there for international travel, but what was more encouraging is the number of new bookings, compared to rebookings.

This indicates that not only are people ready to make travel plans to look forward to, but they are looking at a better way to travel by choosing our style of community tourism. In a recent survey we undertook with consumers, 73 per cent of Australians said what is most important to them when they ‘retravel’ is that their money benefits local people, so we’re optimistic not just about a return of travel, but a shift towards travel that gives back.

It’s our view that travel advisors will be needed more than ever before and will be essential to the recovery of the travel industry.

You have a direct line to the customer and can act as a trusted source of information at a time when customer confidence has taken a huge knock.

The current restrictions don’t help short-term travel, but we appeal to agents not to give up hope. People are booking now, and they will continue to do so. Waiting for travel to return means someone else is picking up bookings.

Ensuring customers have the right travel insurance in place is an important factor, and I would appeal for this industry to do more to help the recovery. Booking air that is fully flexible in case late changes need to be made is also preferable to selling the cheapest ticket available.

Agents need to keep educating themselves to make sure they have the latest information about what suppliers are offering in terms of increased health and safety measures, which travel ‘bubbles’ are likely to open and when, what testing requirements are needed where, and to keep up with any changes to re-entry in Australia as they happen.

This is also an ideal time for agents to be upskilling, completing supplier training and learning about better ways to travel so we can make a difference on the other side of this pandemic.

Affected customers will realise the importance a travel professional plays in their time of need, so there’s a massive opportunity for travel advisors to position themselves as a necessity moving forward.

Our opportunity now is to change the narrative. We need to be optimistic, we need to create the WILL for future travel, and we need to inspire with a ‘book now, travel later’ mentality.

David Green is the vice president of commercial at G Adventures.

Featured image source: iStock/halock

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