Flexibility will be 2021’s travel buzzword

The benefits of full flexibility are greater than the risks for tours, activities and experiences operators

Forget revenge travel, the travel industry buzzword of the year is going to be flexibility. It will be the word that helps restore the sector, rebuild trust and helps tours, activities and experiences operators to market itself to consumers. 

Bringing flexibility to travellers is something that has been strongly resisted by some operators. It greatly increases the risk of much-needed cash being refunded or never received in the first place and can reduce yield.

However, it will make tourists feel much safer and more likely to spend. This is because, as we wrote last week: “Everyone will want to be able to minimise their own personal risk because Covid will still be floating about and they won’t give two fiddles about yours.”

Flexibility will help operators win new business

Flexibility will be 2021’s travel buzzword — Stanislau_V / Adobe Stock ventrata
Operators who reassure people that bookings can be changed are far more likely to win business — Stanislau_V / Adobe Stock

Right now, travellers need to have the confidence that they will not lose out if they take the risk on a holiday. If an operator can reassure people that their booking can be easily changed at the last minute, and be fully refunded in the case of a cancellation, they are far more likely to win that business in the first place.

It’s a view that easyJet Holidays’ chief executive, Garry Wilson, held in an interview with Travel Weekly this week. He said: “Of course it makes it harder. There are compromises you have to make, but customers don’t book holidays in order to cancel them.

“If they do need to cancel there’s probably a very good reason for it. We just need to be making sure we’re always on the side of the customer.”

Trust in tourism needs to be rebuilt, and it’s our responsibility

Emerald Media / Adobe Stock Ventrata Flexibility will be 2021’s travel buzzword
People will remember how operator have treated them during the pandemic — Emerald Media / Adobe Stock

Trust has always been a huge factor in tourism. Holidaymakers are placing their dreams, as well as their money, in the hands of operators. At the minute, that trust has been lost. This isn’t the fault of the great majority of travel professionals (~side-eyes ocean cruise companies~), but it is our responsibility to rebuild it.

People will remember operators and businesses that force them into a situation where they spend hours filling out forms and on the phone in order to claim on their Covid travel insurance, which is a very 2021 thing. Especially if they then discover they’ve been ruled out by a bit of small print. 

That experience is definitely going in the one-star review. But operators who make things as easy as possible and treat their customers well will see ratings go up — even if people haven’t been able to take their trip — and gain repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Enabling maximum flexibility is a step change for the travel industry

— Worawut / Adobe Stock Ventrata Flexibility will be 2021’s travel buzzword
“It’s the right thing to do for the customer. Why is it not the right thing to do for the customer in a normalised year?” — Worawut / Adobe Stock

For those operators who do begin to allow for maximum flexibility, it is a permanent step change. It will be expected and will become a standard part of booking a trip once we reach the After Times. As Wilson said: “The rationale for changing it to what it is at the moment is that it’s the right thing to do for the customer. Why is it not the right thing to do for the customer in a normalised year?”

Operators who do change should scream it from the rooftops. The fact that consumers’ money is safe should be prominent in every campaign. It’s a great message that will get eyes on pages and bums on seats.

Taking the risk of being as flexible as possible will only lead to greater rewards for operators, and for the industry as a whole. It’s the correct decision for both businesses and travellers, and will help unlock all that revenge travel. Sorry, pent-up demand.

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