Comment: Adversity can be an opportunity to innovate and pivot businesses

Silver Travel Advisor managing director Debbie Marshall hopes that when the new normal finally emerges, we’re better equipped for whatever comes next

I spotted a 2020 diary doing the rounds on social media recently. Its boldly-printed hard cover was emblazoned with the not-so-prophetic words ‘2020 – Gonna Be The Best Year EVER!’

So, as we steel ourselves for lockdown take two, this seems to be a good moment to cast a light on some more-positive achievements of the year.

Back in the summer, during that brief rose-tinted interlude when we were encouraged to go back to the office and eat out at least three times a week, the Silver Travel Awards saw a record 225,000 votes cast in the 23 publicly-voted categories, which was more than 60% up on last year. It was reassuring proof that, despite being restricted in their travels this year, older people still wanted to have a voice.

The virtual ceremony took place at The Wallace Collection museum in London, and it felt good to celebrate the winning companies, and to remind our industry how much customers care. Travel companies also competed in the judged

Silver-i Awards for innovation, and this year there were three categories with a record number of entries.

Standout campaign

First up was the Paper Award for the best print advertisement (silver travellers still love traditional media, just like Travel Weekly readers), and the judges voted resoundingly for Ramblers Walking Holidays, saying its standout campaign cut through the market with a real sense of fun and adventure.

Ramblers’ advertisements didn’t feature glamorous silver-fox models with taut abs and impossibly flat stomachs. These were real customers with warmth and character, bringing to life what the holidays are about.

In runner-up position was Silversea. Its print ads used striking, monochrome photography, again capturing real people and showing genuine warmth and a sense of family, history and quality. And not a ship in sight!

The Footprint Award was for responsible and eco-initiatives. There were two winners, as they split the judges’ votes, but both had sustainability at the heart of their businesses.

Hurtigruten was praised as an early adopter of the plastic ban and a world leader in exploration, having introduced the first hybrid-powered expedition cruise ships.

APT Travel Group was the other winner, for demonstrating its commitment to sustainability with the One Tomorrow charitable foundation, connecting guests to causes in the regions in which they operate, and enabling them to deliver the best possible support for local communities.

Bright initiatives

Finally, in the Breakthrough Award for product innovation, a number of entries unsurprisingly focused on how they were responding to Covid with new ideas and initiatives.

The clear winner was Viking for its Viking TV, with the judges commenting that the cruise line had clearly demonstrated its ability to pivot the business, even in the toughest of climates. Viking TV has enabled the line to ensure its loyal customers have remained part of a community.

The team at Revitalise Holidays was also commended for its charitable innovation in making their respite centres into places for NHS workers and patients from local hospitals to stay.

We’ve seen even more examples of pivoting over recent months, with virtual tours and events, a Scottish small-ship operator opening up for self-catered holidays in port, a conference centre in Hampshire reinventing itself as a pop-up hotel, round-trip flights with Qantas to the Great Barrier Reef, and boat rides around Bournemouth harbour to look at the cruise ships lined up on the horizon.

A crisis is a true test of how companies innovate to stay in business, and there have been many clever, creative and heart-warming developments in our industry this year.

I hope that using adversity as an opportunity will mean that when the new normal finally emerges, we’ll be better equipped for whatever comes next. I doubt, however, that there will be any diaries printed with “2021 – Gonna Be The Best Year EVER!” If nothing else, 2020 has taught us never to take anything for granted.

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