Whilst travel is beginning again and countries are opening up – 50 are now on the list of those excluded from quarantine of re-entry – as an industry, travel and tourism must now face the challenges that have faced retail and hospitality as they too have opened their doors for business. The key concern for a great many consumers: is it safe? Safe health-wise and safe financially?
Katie Wright joined a discussion with TTG Editor, Sophie Griffiths this week and provided thoughts and advice around what strategies and tactics can be applied to reassure travellers and holiday makers. It’s a tricky balance.
Advice for agents and travel businesses
Common sense prevails here and it’s important to know that it’s not our place to recommend or persuade anyone to travel. The job we can all do is to lay out the facts around what we are doing, what travellers should expect and what the experience will be like, so the traveller themselves can make an informed decision. Some will be so desperate to travel and see loved ones, visit loved places and will be prepared to take perceived risks involved. Many will weigh up the experience and think it is perhaps not worth the hassle as they start to understand what’s involved in able to travel post-COVID19 lockdown.
The key issues for agents to overcome will be explaining what they are doing operationally to protect and safeguard those who want to travel, what the holiday experience will be like and offering alternatives for those who don’t want to travel in the same way right now.
Travel businesses, brands and operators need to ensure that what they are doing to protect and safeguard customers and the travelling public is accurately and effectively communicated and to be able to reassure consumers of the measures in place.
Siren Comms’ advice on how to communicate successfully in the post-COVID19 travel environment:
1. Talk practically to clients – Communicate clearly to customers what safety features you, the travel organisations involved in the trip, have put in place. Share what the accommodation has put in place at the other end so the holiday experience can be imagined. Spell out, step-by-step how your business is doing all it can to make them feel comfortable, so a consumer knows what to expect. Clarity and consistency of your message are key.
2. Be specific - If possible, share specifics with them on what you are doing operationally to maintain their safety. To increase clarity, use visual content such as infographics and videos.
3. Address consumer confidence in the safety of their booking – Holiday companies are sadly at risk of failure. This is even more difficult to communicate and is likely the industry’s biggest challenge as it’s unpredictable. Remind them of the unquestionable importance of booking via ABTA members and with an ATOL bonded operator. Suggest they monitor national and financial media if they have any concerns, or call ABTA to check the latest advice on consumer protection. Communications can’t control whether a business is financially safe of not, but consumers can check their own protection and insurance and know their rights. These elements are critical. As an industry, travel and tourism will be working hard to re-establish consumer confidence.
4. Use accurate, timely multi-channel communication – Ensuring your communications are joined up and updated in an accurate and timely manner is perhaps the most important thing to do right now. Make sure that everything from social media and internal updates, to dissecting the official government advice and speaking to consumers is consistent.
5. Transparency – at Siren, our advice to all clients is to be completely transparent. It does mean that travel may not be for everyone just yet, but the brands and agents who are open, consistent and transparent with their communications to consumers, will earn their trust and will be the ones that consumers will return to once they can travel again.
Brands getting it right
• The Swiss Embassy - One of our team is a Swiss national and travelled via Geneva to see family. The Swiss Embassy has, in her words, been amazing at keeping her updated. They have provided regular emails, daily updates on rights and restrictions and outlined what to expect. They have also created a 24/7 mental health support line for all Swiss residents in the UK, going “above and beyond” with consumer care and transparency.
• Kuoni – They’re doing a great job with their clear, concise and consistent updates, as well as doing the right thing and being a ‘good business’. Consumers will remember those who looked after staff, were cautious and went above and beyond.
• Thames Clippers – The river bus service on the Thames has been so transparent from day one in terms of what they are doing to keep customers safe. They have heavily used visual prompts, images and videos to provide clear information, ad all turned around instantly. They also had simultaneous updates across all channels. They quickly acknowledged that travel patterns were going to change and reviewed their consumer targeting campaigns and sales activity to suit those most like to travel right now. Before, they carried tourists and commuters. They reworked communications quickly to reflect it being key workers and some commuters who needed or wanted to travel. We supported Thames Clippers with its "return to service" communications.
Tip: If the policy changes through the law, make sure that the right channels are set up and updated in a timely way to deliver the latest news and updates to operations and any travel information.
The future of travel communications
Although predicting the future for travel is difficult in these circumstances, one guarantee is that more change is going to come, and that health and safety messages will feature much more prominently across marketing in the foreseeable future.
Our job as marketeers is to sell the dream and to inspire travel. In the current circumstances we also have to recognise that providing factual health and safety information will be front and centre. Balancing selling the dream and remaining open, with being accurate and COVID19 minded is going to be part of our world for some time. And therefore as we become more familiar with what the requirements are for us all to remain safe and healthy whilst travelling, the job for communications is to keep reminding our customers of what they can do to keep themselves safe and what we are the travel providers are doing to support that.
COVID19 has caused a surge in digital maturity and the way people and businesses embrace tech. As consumers become more demanding and expect faster and more direct responses from companies, more businesses will invest in chatbots to help deliver a quicker and better customer experience.
Although the importance of communications is not a new revelation, right now it is more important than ever to get it right. Find out how we can help you communicate during COVID-19 here or browse our latest PR and comms package offer for small businesses and those in the travel and hospitality industry.