‘Tourism isn’t tourism until it’s sold’, my responsible tourism professor Harold Goodwin always says and the COVID19 pandemic has certainly given us a taste of that. Easier said than done, because the tourism landscape has changed completely. Both supply and demand have been hit and we all need to review our offering and the routes to market in this new tourism reality. The following 6 tips give some food for thought.
Let’s face it, this is almost impossible to keep track of, but key point is to find out which destinations you can sell, and which travellers can come to you. You may need to change what you sell and to whom. Some tour operators are already making quick shifts while they wait for their traditional destinations and source markets to open up.
For example: long haul specialists selling European destinations instead of Asia or Africa or inbound tour operators selling to domestic tourists instead of international ones.
A good way to check which destinations EU travellers can travel to outside of Europe, is to keep your eye on the EU’s list of ‘safe’ countries that can now travel into the EU. It sounds a bit back-to-front, but these countries may see their travel restrictions lifted first.
We know supply and demand in tourism will change dramatically. Many tourism businesses will not survive: some have already folded, others are getting some sort of support (but many in developing destinations are not), while some are merging with other companies. Hopefully the good companies will make it.
You will need to do a thorough check of your suppliers and tour operator partners as well a review of your tours. Are they still fit-for-purpose? Will travellers want the same experiences as before? Do some research on traveller sentiment, it has really changed.
The crisis has provided many tourism businesses with excellent lessons on business relationships and who makes a good partner and who doesn’t. Some realised they are too dependent on one type of traveller or source market. Others that they relied too much on large Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) or need to work on finding decent tour operator partners. While some discovered their tours only suit international tourists and not locals. Ideally you spread the risk.
For tour operator partners, pick the ones with a strong sustainability ethos (check for GSTC certification). For OTAs you should pick sustainable tourism platforms like:
How can I ‘find’ new customers and business partners without going to travel trade events? The answer to this is simple: go online! If there is one thing, we have learned is that we can network and sell virtually. We do not need to travel halfway round the world to meet in person at a large trade show.
From sofa safaris to online cooking experiences, to virtual fam trips and video sales presentations, you can easily put your tours and value as a business partner out there online. Check with trade associations, DMOs and travel trade event organisers like WTM and ITB to see what they have planned for online networking events. They are much cheaper (sometimes even free) and your carbon footprint will be much better too.
The tourism value chain is complicated and long. Travellers rarely think about how money flows from their bank account to destinations and local suppliers, but the crisis has revealed some uncomfortable truths about the links in the chain as well as contracting and terms & conditions. Consumer rights organisations have battled the travel sector and insurers to help customers get money back rather than accept vouchers.
Several large travel companies have confessed they got it wrong and apologised: both to their customers as well as their business partners and suppliers. Going forward clear T&C’s, reasonable rates and fairer contracts will be key. Discuss them openly with your business partners and customer so everyone knows what to expect.
It’s been a very tough time for tourism, but the bigger crisis is the climate crisis. This one will be with us a lot longer and will affect tourism for generations to come. So, it will be all hands on deck to make tourism sustainable.
Push your government and travel trade associations to help educate and transform your sector, join sustainable tourism networks, get support from organisations like the Good Tourism Institute. Work with suppliers and partners you can learn from, maybe even get certified or at the very least report on your sustainability actions.
Tour operators play a key role in sustainable tourism development in destinations. The crisis will hopefully leave us with a smaller but better selection of tourism businesses, better managed destinations and with more conscious travellers. The old way of doing business and selling tourism was not necessarily very fair or straightforward but as we gradually start travelling again there is a great opportunity to take steps towards better tourism for all but first, we need to sell it. Go for it!