New business practices that have emerged throughout the pandemic are likely to remain, according to trade experts on a Travel Weekly webcast.
Flexible policies, out-of-hours availability and virtual events are expected to be permanent features of the travel trade, they predict.
Commenting on flexible terms and conditions, Paul Cleary, managing director of Caribtours, said: “I think we’ll never go back to doing things the way we did them before.
“This is a new world we all live in now. Whether you like it or not, nothing will be the same again.
“And what’s so bad about offering that much flexibility?
“What’s so bad about being available for your customers around the clock? It will be quite different from 2021 onwards.”
Sandra Corkin, Oasis Travel managing director, said her agency has been able to operate efficiently despite the six branches in Northern Ireland being closed during this current lockdown.
There is a calendar of virtual events, such as a cruise quiz and travel quiz, and more marketing activity on social media and email.
The shop shutters are open, so passers-by can see regular updated offers and contact details for staff to take inquiries and bookings.
Cleary added: “You have got to keep the lights on, you’ve got to keep your reputation out there. You’ve got to communicate with your customers.
“The only thing that’s stopping [customers] from travel is a lockdown.
“You will make sure that all of the operators that you’re working with have got no-quibble refunds or no-quibble re-protection dates.
“The customer has got nothing to lose, they want to go away as soon as possible.”
Alan Cross, head of trade sales at Jet2holidays, commented: “What we’ve got to do is communicate the reasons why they should be booking with a package operator they can trust, through a travel agent they can trust.
“We have just rolled out a refund guarantee, which is basically what we’ve been doing more or less all the way through this.
“We switched away from [refund credit notes] with the trade months ago and just offered an automatic refund to simplify their life.
“If we are forced to cancel anybody’s holiday, they will get a full refund on that holiday.
“We need to get cashflow going and we need to get customers travelling.”
He said trade business that comes in after 5.30pm has risen from 17% of agency bookings in 2018 to 21% in 2020.
“It just shows you that the agents are adapting to suit the customers’ requirements.”