Uncertainty produced by the global pandemic could push more consumers to use travel agents over OTAs, according to industry legend Barry Mayo.
The TravelManagers chairman told Travel Weekly that in the long term there could be a shift back to booking travel through a professional, rather than an online travel operator, after many faced difficulties dealing with “faceless” operators with overloaded call centres.
However, he said the industry needs to consider the many variables that will come with a post-coronavirus world, such as whether people will have sufficient leave after lockdown, if they will have less discretionary funds, if they will trust new hygiene and safety practices and if consumer confidence around international travel will take a hit.
“More retail bricks and mortar agents are likely to transition to home-based, reducing financial outgoings and maximising cash flow while maintaining sales from their established client base and to be better positioned in the event a similar situation occurs in the future,” Mayo said.
He noted that the TravelManagers business model is well-suited to many of the circumstances resulting from COVID-19, other than the lack of travel under restrictions.
“The model is robust and resilient, except when borders are closed and health restrictions make it impossible for airlines, cruise companies tour operators and accommodation establishments to operate,” he said.
“TravelManagers supports 600 travel businesses operating from home, so the concept of working from home is not foreign to us.
“[Our] systems and processes are designed to operate remotely resulting in a smooth transition for our national partnership office (NPO) support team to emulate our personal travel manager (PTM) network in working from home
“These established systems have meant our PTM support team have been able to continue their tasks and responsibilities uninterrupted while staying connected with one another, our PTMs and our partner suppliers through email, phone and ZOOM conferencing for face-to-face meetings.
“This has also included regular video updates to PTMs on matters arising from the current circumstances by both the executive group and support teams.”
As restrictions around domestic travel show signs of easing, Mayo said he expects Aussie travellers will jump on the opportunity to travel close to home, take shorter trips, and help rebuild local communities.
With reduced disposable income coupled with being couped-up indoors, often homeschooling and the potential threat of COVID-19 overseas, Mayo suspects domestic travel will be a popular choice.
When asked if agents see less business from domestic travel than international, Mayo told us TravelManagers has always had a healthy share of domestic travel.
“Consumers interested in small-group touring experiences have always tended to book via travel agents, and providing agents have worked at maintaining contact during COVID-19 and can demonstrate value, consumers will continue to seek advice and guidance for their domestic travel,” he said.
“Travel agents are an effective means of travel product and service distribution. Those suppliers who recognise the benefit of travel agency distribution and are consistent with pricing across all channels will be the major beneficiaries.”