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23/12/2020 By : Julia Feuell, Managing Director, OTT

2020: lessons learned from the travel trade’s toughest year

Every year, OTT looks back at 2020 and into 2021.

When we took our annual look into the future last year, Covid-19 didn’t appear on the radar. The first case of the virus was officially recorded in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019.                                                                                                                                                  

By March the virus had spread beyond China and much of the world was in lockdown. It was clear that this was a global pandemic. Travel demand went into freefall as countries closed their borders and individual countries began imposing lockdowns on their populations to slow the spread of the virus.

Summer brought some reprieve to the UK with the easing of some restrictions, but as revenues dried up, the effect on the travel trade was becoming clear. Many thousands within the industry were put on furlough and airlines shed jobs, creating leaner operations to help them to survive the pandemic.      

Despite the downturn, the number of courses launched on OTT has exceeded 2019 course launches with 122 added to the platform. 

In the first of a two-part blog we look at how OTT and the wider industry has adapted to the harshest business conditions ever experienced – and some of the lessons learned for the industry.

Tech knowledge: it’s no longer a “nice to have”

OTT has rolled out a number of improvements to the platform including a new look dashboard, a directory where suppliers can collate vital information and their social feeds.

When the first lockdown happened in March, workers suddenly had to master ways of sharing information with colleagues and clients in just a few days. Pre-pandemic, video production and Zoom meetings were the territory for relatively few people within the travel industry, now it’s an expectation that we’ve all got to grips with as normal forms of online communication.

In 2021, people will have become used to using technology remotely. We’ve had to have high levels of forgiveness for things going wrong this year, but this will move towards a greater level of professionalism, with studios and backdrops creating a slicker look as people embrace this new form of communication.

At OTT, our camera operator and editor Jon Feuell has helped roll out our series of Coffee Break and Be Inspired webinars. With the cancellation of face-to-face visits, the webinars, have allowed our partners to connect with agents at a virtual level, informing them about their products or services during the pandemic. Our partners have taught the Agents something fun and new - to draw attention to the destination as part of #dreamnowtravellater campaigns. Destinations, airlines and hotels have collaborated together to explain to the trade all the details they need to reassure their customers about how the destination will welcome international travel.

The webinars have featured destinations from Sweden to Samoa as well as sessions on maintaining mental and physical wellness during isolation.

Up-to-date information sharing is vital

Information sharing has become even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic enabling agents to stay up-to-date with the fast moving situation .

We introduced a Covid-19 ‘top tab’ tab on all courses, where agents could find the most up-to-date information on disruptions caused by the pandemic and also introduced a Covid newsletter to help the industry keep up with all the developments.                                                            

New destinations are coming onto the radar

With people across the world still grounded, a “pent up” demand for travel is building. Although the pandemic has thrown the ability to plan and make predictions out of the window for most of the year, commentators have suggested that the unemployment rate will peak at just below 10 per cent next summer.

The pandemic is undoubtedly causing hardship for many, but for some, an inability to travel and reduced spend on entertainment or eating out has led to what’s being classed as “unexpected” savings.                                                                        

We launched #dreamnowtravellater campaigns early in the pandemic and since then we have also seen some more off the beaten track destinations using the quiet of the pandemic to create courses, ready to catch travellers’ attention when international travel returns to some sort of normality.

The gift of the unexpected during a gloomy year

Yes, there’s been plenty of doom and gloom and we will all be glad to see the back of 2020, but at OTT we’ve also had some lovely surprises alongside the endless disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, everyone’s had to instantly adapt to technology and the logistics of working from home. With people working from home, there’s less process control and during our webinars, we’ve had all sorts of interesting moments, from cats jumping on keyboards to singing babies and a surfer falling off a paddleboard in an ‘OTT coffee break’ demo.

What’s great about this is that it shows people at a real human level – people are no longer ‘behind the brand,’ they are speaking to us mostly in their own homes to promote their destinations and products with passion.

I’ve picked out two of my favourite Coffee Break Webinars – my first goes to Kelley Keefe from Atlantic Canada for keeping a straight face, while quizzing agents wearing a lobster hat. Kelley donned the rather unusual headgear to follow up a mouthwatering presentation on making lobster roll and lobster Caesar. We’ve captured the moment here.

The second goes to Gibraltar, for taking the brave decision to film part of their webinar live at Sandy Bay beach so we could catch some sunshine. Watch paddleboard instructor Tom perform a headstand on his board, and with lockdown causing many of us to miss out on our sea and sunshine break, just a tinge of envy when he falls in!

In the second part of our end of year blog and with the vaccine rolling out paving the way towards a ‘new normal’, we’ll be looking ahead to 2021 and some of the changes and new expectations which may stay with us long after the pandemic.


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