As we fast approach January – arguably the most important month in the travel calendar – our attention turns to what will be “big” in the industry in 2022.
I had the pleasure of speaking at ABTA’s Travel Trends conference earlier last week, and one trend that particularly grabbed my attention was: the new age of the expert.
According to ABTA’s new report, Travel in 2022, people are thirty per cent more likely to book with a travel professional now than before the pandemic. And interestingly, the biggest growth potential is among 18–24-year-old travellers.
Now, perhaps it’s not that surprising. After all, with the ongoing tangle of changing travel restrictions and testing requirements, why wouldn’t you entrust that holiday you’ve been dreaming of for the past 18 months to a professional?
But people are a fickle bunch and could easily revert back to price-driven holidays.
So how can travel consultants capitalise upon this changing consumer sentiment today and ensure the LONG-TERM return of the expert?
By not being complacent about the longevity of this trend. By not losing sight of the ways in which you can demonstrate value for money with every single booking.
In my view, there are three easy ways that front-line consultants and company communicators can work together to showcase this value:
Understand the latest consumer wants and needs.
Consultants have always had in-depth knowledge about destinations, but this is about doubling down on your understanding the latest trends in consumer behaviour. In the Autumn edition of Suitcase Essentials, we identified that travellers are looking for bespoke itineraries for multigenerational families, niche experiences, and to explore rural and rustic culinary settings. Communicators can create new, or repurpose existing, content in these areas to inspire travellers, while consultants can use their in-product expertise to tailor make packages in a way that’s much harder when using a search engine.
Get creative with customer support.
One of the biggest concerns people have about travelling abroad right now is the stress of it all. While most companies have booked with confidences guarantees, now is the time for companies to think about how they can go above and beyond this – both in terms of service, and how it is shouted from the rooftops. I love Barrhead Travel’s Stress-Free Guarantee as not only do they offer flexibility, they also send customers tailored emails in the run up to your holiday such as when and where to do PCR tests based upon the destination you’re travelling to. And don’t just stop when the flight takes off! Byway Travel offers WhatsApp support from its consultants 24/7 while its customers are away.
Demonstrate your wider impact.
According to booking.com’s latest Sustainability Report, 83% of people now believe that sustainable travel is vital. And in ABTA’s Travel in 2022 report, there has been a 19% uplift in people saying they are prepared to pay more for a holiday with a company that has a better environmental and social record. So, take time to not only help your customers make more sustainable choices when booking a holiday but speak openly about the journey your company is embarking on to be a positive force for tomorrow.
All three of these examples reinforce the importance of a consumer-first, rather than a commercial-first, approach to service – from that moment of first inspiration to putting the dirty washing in the machine.
Given the negative impact that COVID-19 had on the travel industry (VisitBritain believes the UK alone lost £37 billion from a lack of tourism in 2020), this approach will no doubt make a few finance directors wince.
But as Cat Jordan from Travelzoo explained last week, younger travellers seek holiday inspiration from social media, but it’s also where they go to complain about their experience. And older travellers are more likely to recommend destinations with friends – but it’s where they’ll also share their grievances.
In other words, if travel experts can win our trust today, it will have long-term booking benefits for tomorrow.