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Holidaymakers need confidence boost to get booking again

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    Celia Woolfrey

    Celia Woolfrey UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    COVID-19 has hit the global travel industry hard – the shutdown is expected to cost the British tourism industry alone £22 billion. 

    Many airlines expect to operate a small number of international flights from June, but with testing protocols and possible quarantine on landing, it's going to be a while before we can fly freely again. With an adult Brit spending £823 on average on a holiday in the UK, our travel industry is working on incentives to get more of us to take a staycation in Britain this year, and booking platforms such as Airbnb report that searches for local stays are already up. 

    The Government has said that if the infection rate is low enough by then, 4 July is likely to be the date it gives the go-ahead to hotels, restaurants, holiday rentals, camp sites and other tourism businesses to start to reopen. 

    But consumer confidence is low. 'As it stands, only 17% of the [British] public is currently intending to take a holiday in the UK this year, whereas in other European countries such as Italy, more than 40% of the population is planning a domestic holiday,' wrote Julian Knight MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to tourism minister Nigel Huddleston, demanding a 'kickstart' for the industry and a focus on promoting staycations this summer. 

    With talk of a COVID second wave or local lockdowns if cases in a specific area rise, much of the hesitancy to book is due to uncertainty. Tourism businesses are having to develop new policies outside of their usual terms and conditions to instil confidence in customers worried about what happens to deposits and pre-payments in the event that they aren't able to travel.

    Smaller tourism businesses with a positive, direct relationship with customers are in the best position here. If a guest contacts them with issues over their trip, the level of flexibility and empathy they can show to often loyal customers who return year after year means they're able to reach an agreement to reschedule rather than cancel outright. 

    “Our policy on postponements is that we offer them for periods under restriction,” says Caroline MacDonald, director of The Cottage Company, a full-service agency in the southern Welsh Borders that deals with bookings and payment collection on behalf of 126 properties. The company is allowing guests to reschedule through its website, with no time limit on when they need to rebook, by logging into their booking and using the code 'Covid' if they have to postpone a trip due to government travel advice. “We can't give refunds, as it would make things very difficult for cottage owners,” she says.

    Managing the rebooking process can be a delicate task, with a need for give and take on both sides. Businesses that take bookings via huge online travel agencies have had less control over this, and Expedia and Booking.com angered hoteliers at the start of the outbreak when they changed terms and conditions, abolished cancellation charges and asked members to refund payments, causing huge financial stress.

    Airbnb is allowing property owners to set a temporary flexible cancellation policy and making it easy to switch from a strict policy to flexible or moderate by changing settings on their listings page. Guests, too, can filter properties by their cancellation policy by clicking on a button at the top of their search results. Clear communication is key, so that both the customer and the business know where they stand.

    Travel insurance no longer protects travellers from cancellation of new trips due to Covid-19 as the pandemic is now a 'known event' and insurance is there to help with unknown or unforeseeable events. Many insurers have now suspended the sale of new policies altogether. As part of guidelines it published at the end of May to restart tourism around the world, the UN World Tourism Organisation is urging the travel trade and the insurance sector to work together to give guests at least some protection and incentivise them to travel again.

    Other ideas being put forward are an extra UK bank holiday, potentially in October, to make up for the two May bank holidays spent in lockdown, and a quality standards scheme that shows that a tourism business understands how to operate within Covid guidelines on social distancing and hygiene. 

    “We've been asked by tourism businesses to look at the idea of an industry-standard mark,” says VisitBritain chief Patricia Yates. 

    “Once the guidelines are agreed we could run an online training programme which would be free for businesses to join up to so they could then have the mark on the door to give visitors confidence. Our weekly consumer sentiment surveys show that British people are really nervous about travelling and taking a holiday this summer. So we'll be focusing on reassurance,” she says.

    Flexibility, reassurance, trust – all three are going to be vital to get us booking travel again.

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  2. Karimbo

    Karimbo UKBF Ace Free Member

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    People's attitudes will change, at the start of the pandemic people thought the world was going to end, rushing out to supermarkets at 5am stockpiling on food.

    Now people are more and more eager to get back to work as they're fed up of lockdown.

    2 months from now, we'll be out going about our business and covid will be a distant memory.
     
    Posted: Jun 7, 2020 By: Karimbo Member since: Nov 5, 2011
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