Posted on September 18, 2020 in Corporate

Plights of Travel Operators – Time to Rethink and Realign

Many of us have come to the realisation that the travel industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plights of travel professionals have been featured heavily in the media, both online and offline, for months and for good reasons.

The cancellations of flights, the lack of demand for destination flights, and the human disaster of layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts that have happened to many travel professionals globally. The end is not in sight and further drastic measures are likely to come as the crisis is prolonged.

The question many travel professionals asked themselves, “Why are we in this state?”

Regardless of the emergence of the pandemic, the travel industry is already in a dire need of a transformation – the need to rethink and realign. The answer to the above question is simple yet hidden in the blind side from the travel businesses. Many travel related businesses today are still stuck in a commodity mind-set. You kept hearing them say things like, “All customers want is the lowest price.” Or, “COVID19 destroys us” Or, “We can’t compete with online platforms” etc.

Regardless of the size of the operations, it’s easy to adopt the prevailing assumptions and blame it on the situation and competitors. Be it the industry assumptions (“COVID19 to be blamed”), company assumptions (“we don’t have the resources and capabilities to transform”) or personal assumptions (“I’m not smart enough” or “how can a small company like mind compete with the big boys?”); these are just simply the easy way out for many businesses rather than to address the real issue.

Skylark’s interactions and research within the industry groups shows consistently that winning firms are those that do not conform to the conventional wisdom, they challenge assumptions. Below are some of the examples on how one can rethink and realign:

RETHINK what everyone else been telling you in the industry which they believe to be the truth – but the truth may not be! 

  • Everyone is talking about the online travel platforms and how it would end all travel agencies as we know it – have they? 
  • Everyone loves free and easy thus there is no need for packaged tours – but have you seen the numbers of tour groups increasing globally? 
  • Everyone is stereotyping the business model of travel agents as outdated – but have you seen emerging travel companies such as Klook, Skyscanner, Indie Singapore, Monster Tours and Woopa Group etc.?

RETHINK the role of the travel professionals – more than just issuing tickets and booking hotels.

  • A travel professional is more than just about knowing the trendiest travel destinations. Travel professionals are now expected to protect their clients’ travel investments helping to ensure they get the best value regardless of the circumstances.

RETHINK your solution to your target segment – more than just traditional destination selling

  • There have been various discussion on using data analytics and artificial intelligence on the travel industry – for example if a customer wants to see the annual whale migrations, travel professionals research past sightings data on their given dates to suggest the best cities for them to do so from; if they want to catch the northern lights, travel professionals can utilise regional weather forecast and predict the best dates and cities to have a better than average chances of catching the natural phenomenal. 

REALIGN the customers’ journey roadmap – are they simply corporate or leisure travellers? 

  • Corporate travellers of yesteryears are no longer contended with business only trips. The birth of “bleisure” travellers, or those who combine work trips with a day or two of sightseeing and this segment is emerging especially among the new millenniums’ business travellers.  
  • Companies that can automate their processes while retaining a human touch will be the ones best positioned for recovery. Travel is still very much a service-oriented industry – despite the rise of machines and platforms – the act of travelling is still being carried out by humans and we all craved for services in all touchpoints. 

RETHINK the business model – transformation is the key to survival. 

  • Industry experts have predicted that when pandemic-induced restrictions are lifted, stronger and bigger players who are engaged in capabilities building during these trying times will become even stronger because smaller agencies would have raise the white flags and won’t be able to hibernate their businesses for long enough to ride the wave of pent-up demand for travel. Capabilities building include brand and marketing enhancements, strengthening human capital, relooking the revenue models etc.   
  • Harness the strength of the collective network of travel professionals – from our supplier partners, to our industry’s trade organizations – unity is strength in adversity. Klook has teamed up with food delivery companies WhyQ and Lalamove in Singapore and Hong Kong respectively to leverage on the strengths of partners to offer their clients. 

It’s true that there are fewer travel agents in business now than there were 20 years ago. However, that doesn’t mean that they are following the way of the dinosaurs. Corporations rely on them for billions of dollars’ worth of business travel arrangements for their employees and clients. Luxury travellers want them to take care of all the hassles of planning for them so they can just show up and relax. A growing Baby Boomer population knows the value of their expertise, and especially wants guidance if they’re not tech savvy. Even millennials know the travel businesses have diversified and specialised in different travel niches, from adventure travel to food to yoga. The travel industry is changing and adapting to the changing markets.

Like everyone who loves travel, we’ve been waiting patiently to get back out and see our friends, families, colleagues and customers. We’re looking forward to getting back in the air, into hotels, on the road – and most importantly getting back together. But now, we should leverage on the lean time to think about how to re-emerge and recover from this pandemic. Only through rethinking and realignment can this be the catalyst to the rebirth of the travel industry in the post COVID19 era. Only together can we reconnect the world, and going back to what we do best – connecting minds. 

Written By:

Chris Kuang

Skylark Strategy Division
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