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Is the corona crisis a once in a lifetime opportunity to define the future of tourism?

John F. Kennedy once said that the word crisis consists of two letters in Chinese. One indicates danger and the other is about opportunity. This approach can be applied to a crisis that will affect the world and tourism for a long time to come. We are probably talking about a turning point.

The Corona crisis is a very serious situation. I do not want to talk about the virus itself, that is a job for professionals. The rest of us must follow the guidelines given. And I have great compassion for all the talented people who might lose their jobs and life’s work because of this. 

However, history shows that crises also provide opportunities to start fresh, or find new directions. The absurd scenes we are witnessing right now gives us an almost infinite source of learning. The travel industry has been in continuous growth since 1950 and suddenly everything stops. Turns out, the impossible was possible after all. The future will be defined now. This article will focus on the windows of opportunity that a crisis can provide. 

Forced digitization

Many companies that have spent months and years on decisions have now spent days and hours putting together digital solutions. How much money has this cost them? Modest amounts. Guaranteed less than it has cost them the long wait. Without even planning to, they have already won a small battle in the big war.

So far in the digital revolution, customer behavior is what has changed the most. While hotels and operators have been passive these last years, the market has been taken over by innovative online agencies (OTAs, for example) that not only make more money per customer than the locals, but that also have taken ownership to the customers. But the hotels are still the ones making the breakfast and cleaning up. This business model hasn’t been sustainable in quite a while. Something has been wrong and the crisis has intensified it. The dominance of these agencies has seemed impossible to change. Until now. It is not necessarily the biggest and strongest who will survive, but those who are able to adapt the fastest in the new landscape. Survival of the fittest. It’s all about making the right changes, and doing it fast. 

Has anyone ever experienced that everyone is completely without income at the same time? The industry has grown every single year since 1950, and now everyone has moved back to start. So, in a way, we all have to begin again. 

The drops that spills the glass

Tour operators and hotels have from time to time been frustrated with the OTAs.  But this time it’s worse than before. Local providers have tried to make the crash landing a little smoother by e.g. convincing their customers to postpone, not cancel. At the same time, a major player like Booking.com, in order to salvage its reputation, chose to promise 100% reimbursement to its customers, without regard to either non-refundable payments or other agreements. The giants have simply turned their backs on their “dear partners” – the hotels, leaving the responsibility to them. This will probably not go unpunished. 

Travelers are also annoyed. Many platforms have provided incomplete and misleading information. The level of trust is low and in the future the customers may choose services that send you directly to the provider. Some offer both independent and direct booking. Tripadvisor has struggled with both its reputation and two-face business model for a long time. Is this the nail in the coffin for “independent” rating sites? If so, who will be taking over? Influencers and social media again? It is, after all, the most effective marketing available. 

Say hi to the locals, and other new clients

Maybe every provider will be influencers and media businesses? You can take advantage of the corona break to strengthen the relationship with your customers. You can become good at social media and start using more digital aids. A good example of how to make good of the situation, is Oscar Almgren at Uteguiden in Stranda, Norway. He now does intro avalanche courses as free webinars, and in a few days notice, more than 1900 persons signed up for the first course! 95% are new customers. That is good branding! And, thanks to donations, he earned much more in a few hours of webinar than in a 7 days normal course!

People will probably travel differently. No one knows how, whether it is for a period or lasting. Past experience shows that security will be important. This can mean that services and destinations that the market will look at as safe can get a boost. Norway, for example. Maybe this is what it takes for travelers to look at new destinations, and in new seasons? Anyway, betting on more local travel ahead is probably not the worst idea. 

I believe the comeback of agents and incoming operators will continue, as they went through a strong digitization long before corona became the most searched word on internet. It will be interesting to see how the travelers budgets are affected. Maybe the services that tailor the trips completely digitally, will get the biggest boost. 

A green break 

Mother Earth has gotten a long-awaited break. We have all seen pictures of crystal clear water in Venice and clean air in the big cities. We are constantly getting new numbers confirming that the crisis has a positive impact on nature. And in the big context, the way we treat our planet is a much bigger threat to tourism. Those who want to join in the future and have not yet begun to focus on sustainability, need this kick in the balls. They were already on their way out. The green transition applies to all industries, and started before Covid-19 pressed the pause button. Some are talking about easing requirements, e.g. the emission requirements for cruise ships visiting the fjords. This will have the same effect as peeing your pants to keep warm. People have already started to travel shorter and more sustainable, and Covid-19 might accelerate this trend.

This is a golden opportunity for anyone who wants more sustainable tourism. The one who waits will see, the one who acts will join.

The corporate market has quickly learned that it is more efficient, inexpensive and sustainable with video conferencing, or dropping the meeting and interacting via digital aids. This might mean fewer trips, but notice that business trips bookings in China as of March 24 is already at 40% of the normal, compared to 20% in early January. It is not unlikely that a similar pattern will happen in the western world when they start getting back on their feet. Business travelers are likely to be the first segment to explore the world after the pandemic is fought. The best tip is to follow closely what is happening in Asia and consider tailoring solutions for the bleisure-market, which have been on a rise for a while already.

So what are these opportunities? Is it possible to concretise? 

Think of all the steps you have wanted to take, but that you’ve never have time for. If these steps will make your business better while your core business is safe, you’ll never have more time than right now. Here are some things you should spend some time doing: 

Leadership. In a crisis, it is important to manage basics, such as communication and resources. You need to know where you are to find out where you are going. Keep everyone up to date and be honest. Plan strategically how to get started again when all this is over. The leadership skills you acquire now, will come in handy later. 

Business development. If you make your processes more efficient, you can end up with both better margins and higher profits. Are there even better booking solutions or CRM out there? Many things can be automated and I’m sure you can make better use of your resources. Feel free to get inspiration from other industries. 

Upgrading. Make upgrades on your equipment, or build the storage shed you have been thinking about. Having everything in ship shape and ready for the customers when they arrive is a good way to earn their trust. 

Product development. Upgrade your experiences so even more customers will tell their friends about the great things you do. This is a good time for you to research the market and create new products.

Storytelling and marketing. Optimize your site and channels. Produce content, text, images and videos. Research keywords and optimize your site. Write blog posts. Map the customer journey and find out where you can improve. Don’t forget to communicate with customers, be helpful, be creative but always clear and precise. 

Sale. Everyone knows that everyday life will be coming back. Since modern sales are more or less a dialogue, it’s smart to make plans ahead of time and start the dialogue! Being empathetic and helpful is never wrong!

Partnership and marriage. Perhaps other companies are open and ready for collaboration? This can also be a good time to merge companies. Will you be stronger together? If you are ambitious and have access to capital, you will hardly find a better time for acquisitions and investments.

Recruitment. Many talented people have now started looking for new directions, so if you have plans to recruit, the timing is good. If you lose your job, remember that there are people who need your skills. 

Competence. Take courses, read books, do what you can to get better. You will never regret doing this. Everyone needs professional input from time to time. Watch carefully, be flexible and seize opportunities. People change, and it will affect what they do. Follow the industry a bit from the outside. There are good chances that things will take a different turn than before Covid-19 put a stop to everything. 

I grew up on the coast. Many people work with fish or something related to fish, and you get your first job before you hit puberty. You quickly become accustomed to discouragements and defeats, but you quickly learn that you just have to get up and keep going. I’ve been in the travel industry ever since i finished studying. Life as a startup is also mostly about challenges. And there will definitely be more setbacks even after we get back on our feet. But you get up and try again, with a little more experience than before. 

The next few months will probably be the best opportunity you will ever have for gaining market share. The whole world is broken, and now it’s up to you to make the right moves. That means the smartest marketing, the best customer journey and the best ability to build trust with the travelers. You might also find a whole new market.

Because you already have world-class products. Right?

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