Agents must focus on what consumers needs are rather than what they want them to be, according to the boss of escorted touring specialist Trafalgar.

In his keynote speech at the Atas Virtual Touring & Adventure Week, chief executive Gavin Tollman urged agents to think differently in the wake of the pandemic.

“I’ve heard so many people ask, ‘when are things going to go back to normal?’ There is no new normal, just a new reality. But who says the new can’t be better than the old?” he said.

“Don’t hang on [waiting for the old one to come back], it’s not going to look like it did before. We need to let go of what was; we are going to have to think differently, try new things and broaden our horizons.”

Tollman said the “foundation of adaptation” was “listening and responding to what travellers want”, and said from extensive customer research and study of Google analytics, consumers’ three key concerns were: ‘Is it safe for me to travel?’, ‘What will the experience be like?’, and ‘Is my money safe?’.

He said addressing and conveying how safe travel was would be paramount in the new reality.

“If you cannot build peace of mind, they are not going to travel. This is not a luxury; it has to be a given. And you need to be able to communicate it,” he said, highlighting the extensive new health and safety protocols Trafalgar has introduced ahead of its return to operations.

Tollman advised agents to explain to their clients that they are still going to have a great time on holiday, despite some of the changes.

“They will be asking themselves ‘Is it still worth going on holiday?’, and this is where we get to demonstrate our local expertise, the ability to travel without a worry, to travel with the knowledge that everything has been taken care of and thought of.

“So tell them about the ease of being able to go on holiday and just leave the hard work to us. We will ensure that every aspect of a guest’s trip is carefully vetted and approved by local teams and that we will remain up-to-date and ready to evolve when places we visit change, thereby giving consumers the freedom to enjoy their trip without any stress or concern.”

Finally, Tollman urged agents to book their customers with operators that were financially secure and which offer the most flexible booking conditions.

“In these uncertain times, you need to be able to assure travellers that their money is safe. You therefore need to carefully select who you are doing business with,” he said, adding that Trafalgar was celebrating 100 years in business this year and was privately-owned with a strong balance sheet “showing  $300 million dollars of unencumbered assets”.

Tollman pointed out Trafalgar had introduced flexible and risk-free booking terms that feature reduced deposits and the option to change plans up to 30 days before departure.

He concluded: “It’s all about filling the need of what consumers want and looking at it through their eyes; understanding their concerns and addressing these needs by giving them peace of mind, so they can once again get out and do what they want and explore the world.”

“We never asked for it. But it’s here. However much we want to change, it is a reality. But even in these uncertain times, it’s imperative we give assurance that travellers can still travel and explore the world with confidence – from dreaming, to planning, to booking.

“Touring is able to answer their questions and fulfil their wanderlust. All you need to do is think differently. All I’m asking is that you be prepared; you adapt; try something new; and ultimately, you will find then, your destiny is in your own hands.”