A government campaign and collaboration within the travel industry to run joint advertising are both needed to restore consumer confidence in overseas travel, according to experts.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Der Touristik UK chief executive Derek Jones said: “The list of ‘safe’ destinations published by the government last week is great news in the travel industry. But for most consumers, this is going to baffling. This is really going to confuse a lot of people and that’s not going to do a huge amount for customer confidence.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency and co-ordinator of the Quash Quarantine campaign, said: “The confidence has to come from two areas. It’s got to come from a government campaign. I honestly think that is what the government could do to help the sector, as much as just pouring money in. It could actually put its money into a really strong campaign to help people go overseas. I think that’s unlikely but it’s something clearly we’ll want to talk to the transport secretary about.
“And then secondly, the industry itself may need to come together in various forms, be it by region, by continent, by genre of travel, to pull together money to do joint advertising and campaigns and that’s already happening, I know, in some cases around the world as they prepare their plans.”
He added: “It may be appropriate for the industry to come together much more than it has done in the past, unite and do some sort of joint campaigning even if it’s with a competitor. I think that’s going to be important to create that confidence, which is going to be needed for 2021, at least, even if we miss out on the rest of this year.”
Charles said he believes the country is evenly split regarding overseas travel currently.
“I think there’s 50% of people who are quite happy to try and carry on as normal and go on a holiday, especially if they booked it earlier in the year pre-Covid. But a large part of the country are not prepared to go away yet and in fact are booking staycations, which is good for the [domestic] industry, but obviously doesn’t help 2020 overseas bookings,” he said.
“We know the industry is going to be 30 to 40% smaller over the next year anyway and there is a lot of concern that there may be spikes [of coronavirus infections] in countries when people are away or that the advice changes once they book their holiday, and a lot of people are not prepared to take that risk.”
Jones added: “There’s a real danger in all of this. [The return of the market] really does come back to consumer confidence and I think that’s driven by clarity of message. What we need is really clear, concise communication to customers about where and when they can travel because only when we get that, will the confidence come back.”
Charles predicted confusion over the government’s list would lead to a rash of calls to agents and operators.
“This is the problem with creating a list like this; it sows discomfort, and basically creates a lack of confidence and I suspect we’re going to be inundated with calls, with people going: “Is my destination not going to appear on the list then?’
Kelly Cookes, leisure director at The Advantage Travel Partnership, said the confusion was a real opportunity for agents.
“I think there is a huge opportunity for agents in this whole piece because they are the people that can navigate consumers through some of the detail. So a lot of it has been educating them on how to sell and what to sell. We’ve got this 10-point checklist, which we’re suggesting members run through with customers before they confirm a booking to depart in the next couple of months,” she explained.
“That talks them through everything from the insurance piece to what to expect on the flight, on a transfer, to what might be different in their accommodation and what they should check in resort.”
Cookes said Advantage had also supplied members with some “assets” to promote destinations where customers don’t have to quarantine on either side, “to give some real clear guidance on where they can sell and where perhaps it’s a little bit more complex”.
She added: “But every case is different and every customer is different so there’s not really a blanket approach to being able give guidance. I think it’s just giving the members as much information as they can, and legal understanding on what happens if things change.”