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01/02/2021 By : Julia Feuell, Managing Director, OTT

Travel 2021 - beyond the pandemic

Part I of our end of year blog looked at the lessons learned from the travel industry’s toughest ever year.

With the UK now under even tighter lockdown restrictions, it’s hard to predict what the next few months will bring – or just how long it will take before the widespread rollout of vaccination programmes. We are still months away from the turning point, when enough people have been vaccinated to create a ripple effect and market conditions start to improve.                                                                                              

So instead of making plans and predictions, we’re taking a look at some of the expectations which may change as a result of the pandemic which, long term, may even improve the whole travel experience.

Here are some of the trends for the trade in 2021 and beyond...                                                                                               

Travel trade must keep up to date with government support initiatives

Just as it was in 2020, for 2021 many businesses will be focused on simply staying alive. Within the travel trade, there are a lot of independent businesses, self-employed people and franchises. To cope with the continued uncertainty, you absolutely need to stay up-to-date. At the end of the day, cash is king and you have to take any and all the help you can get that’s coming your way. 

There is a massive effort to keep businesses and jobs alive and also to help businesses expand to employ more people.                                              

Changing working patterns are here to stay

Face-to-face work visits will be pared right down – perhaps to occasions of only visiting key trade partners. Our research from OTT data showed that 31 per cent of agents were already homeworking before the pandemic.

Work patterns which include some element of home working are here to stay – they may become part-time office, part-time home. This will have a knock on effect for reaching agents, it will be virtually impossible to get them all together all in one place. There will still be events, they’ll come back eventually, but people will have to embrace technology to reach potential clients.

To get people to listen and learn about your product offering, you will need to train them virtually, and the way you communicate with them will also have to fit around that. Create good email lists, attract agents with competitions and ensure you keep in touch. 

With the changes in working patterns, suppliers will have to adapt their training around the time pressures of agents. Just like TV streaming services, this will mean being able to watch a webinar at a time of their choosing and courses which can be accessed at a time agents are free to engage with them. The pandemic will spell the end to training being delivered at 3pm on a Tuesday.

With a reduction in face-to-face visits, account managers will need to upskill and work with technology to reach agents. They won’t be able to go back to face-to-face visits. They will have to offer other skills such as using video or hosting a webinar.

Collaboration will be key

Destinations rely on the support of airlines that serve their routes. With both destinations and airlines hit hard by the pandemic, a more joined up approach is needed. This will result in a more collaborative approach with different suppliers teaming up to promote a destination together.

Global travel will be communicated on a local level

In 2020, we saw a lot more interest in our international markets. So we appointed marketing and PR representatives in Germany, USA and Australia. This year we're going to do the same for the Netherlands and France markets as well, with potentially Spain and Asia after that.

Our representatives bring their local knowledge to our global operations, for example, our German representatives have chosen to use more informal language to connect with agents.

Making greater use of local knowledge to expand your global reach may sound like a paradox, but speaking to people who know the culture, can identify what’s important to their market and knowing the exact type of language to speak to them in really helps our partners to get their key messages across.

Cleanliness will enhance passenger experience

Innovations which are used in healthcare will also become commonplace in transport hubs. There will be a greater focus on touch-free tech and apps using customer’s own devices.

OTT was fortunate to be invited to Heathrow to see some of the developments taking place in 2020. This included the UV cleaning robots moving back and forth within the terminal. We also heard about “fogging” from Heathrow Express - a process that could kill viruses within train carriage surfaces with one application which lasted 28 days. 

Children will be growing up in a cleaner world. The next generation will struggle to believe that people smoked in offices or some of the filthy conditions we’ve experienced, for example, on the Tube.

A greater focus on hygiene and both physical and mental health will be one of Covid-19’s more positive legacies.

Adopting healthy coping strategies

Covid-19 has thrown away old certainties and routines so in 2021, we will still have to take every week as it comes. This has meant trying to find our own ways of coping with the pandemic. One thing we can do is to be kind to ourselves, looking after our own health by ensuring we take exercise, getting outdoors and finding peace and quiet through meditating.

Wishing you the best possible 2021!

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