By Dr. Zongqing Zhou
It is relatively difficult to predict summer travel, particularly after the massive national
protests that add a potentially tide-turning consumer psychological breaker. But, if the protests do not trigger a second wave of the pandemic, the threat of contamination by the coronavirus will be drastically reduced in the minds of the travelers and we may expect a more peaceful and steady increase of travel for the latter part of summer. We won’t know, though, until the two-week window is over, which brings us to the end of June.
To the contrary, if the protests induce a second wave of the pandemic, consumers will be very reluctant to put their health in potential jeopardy. We will then witness relatively small-scale travel with social distancing playing a major factor. Those businesses that can convince the travelers that they provide a safe environment for consumption will be the winners. With social media, winners will win big and losers will lose big.
In order to succeed, travel industry businesses should take the following steps:
1. Sanitation pledge: daily thorough professional cleaning of the environment, depending on which industry sectors you are in, including but not limited to non-touch temperature checks for all guests and disinfection and sanitizing protocols.
2. Food safety pledge: starting from food suppliers to the kitchen food preparation, serving and delivery.
3. Add free room sanitation amenities.
4. Special cancellation policies pledge: for bookings/orders that have already been made, cancel without any penalty. Credits would be redeemable at any time within the next 12 months and rates will stay the same for similar types of services and products. For new bookings/orders, customers would be able to cancel at any time without penalty, with two options: a full refund or credit for use within the next two years. Implement many similar peace-of-mind measures.
5. Make public safety and security the centerpiece of management, marketing and promotion.
6. Provide assurance that all customers will be well-protected on property, or at local destinations by providing free or next-to-free masks, sanitation equipment and local medical connections, if needed.
7. Create innovative programs and events focusing on “social distancing” such as “controlled crowd traveling,” private group traveling, family traveling, limited group tour sizes, special dining experiences for small groups, relaxation/escape/fun trips (from the long depressing social distancing lockdown).
8. Add “crisis forbearance” to the loyalty program: loyalty program customers (at certain levels, for example), would be automatically protected from any losses due to a COVID-19-like crisis. For example, any booked flight/hotel/tour/meal/cruise would be automatically refunded or extended for at least another year, based on a customer’s preference. Customers should not need to call to make changes, since phones would likely be jammed anyway and companies would have many complaints and unhappy customers.
9. The best time to adopt technologies:
- Large corporations should use big data to better understand customers. Two pieces of information are especially relevant and important: age and geographical location (countries, cities, etc.). The reason is clear: COVID-19 affects older people more than younger people and it affects some countries and regions more than it does others. The older the people are, the more concerned they will be with health-related safety and security. This information can be used in promotional incentives and customizing marketing messages.
- Implement touchless check-ins, check-outs, door locks and other service elements.
- Streamline marketing/promotion/booking/reservation/check-in/check-outs/post-travel feedback, either through the internet, by creating a proprietary app, or both. For destinations and theme parks, the concept of carrying capacity is particularly important to understand. Once you know the carrying capacity of your destination or theme park, use technology to require pre-booking to be able to visit your sites, which in turn enables you to control the crowd daily.
- accelerated use of VR, AR, robots, video conferencing programs such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx and event management programs such as Cvent. Many of these programs became household names due to the COVID lockdown policy. Customers are likely to accept them, if offered or made available. These tools are very useful and effective in presenting intangible services and products offered by the hospitality and tourism industry. They are also great tools for social distancing, customization and market targeting.
- Implement smart tourism, smart hotels and smart food service.
From the consumer’s point of view, these destinations and services will become first-picks:
- Destinations within a day’s driving distance, approximately within 400 miles. Consumers will avoid air travel if they can drive. Travel companies should pay close attention to this target market.
- Destinations that allow for social distancing where visitors will nevertheless enjoy their stay.
- Small group and family trips will become popular.
- Trips/service that provide complete relaxation, special treats and getaways .
- Trips/bookings that come with a deep discount and a worry-free change or cancelation policies.
- Trips/services that provide 100% assurance of a virus-free environment.
Items for travelers to pack when they leave home this summer:
- A touchless thermometer.
- Two bottles of wine or liquor. (If you are a drinker, you should know the limit for international travel by customs is two; you might have no bars to go to or no interest in drinking while practicing social distancing.)
- A bottle opener (not all hotels offer them).
- Favorite snacks (in case you are taken to a quarantine center).
- Favorite instant food/noodles (reasons as above).
- Over-the-counter medications known to successfully treat COVID-19 – acetaminophen, cough and cold medicines, etc.
- Local U.S. Embassy contact information.
- PPEs that are required by the local government for the destinations you are visiting.
- A device that you know you can definitely use to contact people in case of emergency.
- A take-it-easy mentality: follow all the rules and requirements, no matter how cumbersome and difficult they are. Remember, as long as you can return home safely, you will be a winner.