The travel industry has been tremendously affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Even as early as 5th March, Flybe – Europe’s biggest regional airline – fell into administration, blaming the impact of coronavirus as one of the reasons for its collapse. More recently, Norwegian Air has been forced to temporarily lay off around half of its staff because of coronavirus, and many other airlines have also reduced capacity and grounded flights.
With global events cancelled, non-essential travel restricted, and holiday-makers having to self-isolate at home, many more businesses within the travel and tourism industry are likely to find themselves in jeopardy. But while most brands are sitting tight, it’s no longer a case of keeping quiet and hoping everything will blow over, and many are now being proactive about communication and how they update consumers on the situation.
Telling tourists to stay away
An unfortunate consequence of recent government advice to self-isolate is that people are trying to escape out of their towns and cities to do so. This weekend, news headlines described how places in the UK, including Whitstable, the Lake District, and Cornwall are seeing a huge influx of visitors. London parks were rammed with people wanting to enjoy some fresh air, inadvertently making ‘social distancing’ rules all the more difficult.
As a result, tourism brands in the UK are backing Boris Johnson’s plea to stay away, going against the grain of their usual promotional activities. Visit Cornwall released a statement asking people to avoid visiting the region, reassuring them that “we will love seeing you again later in the year.”
A message from Visit Cornwall Would visitors please stay away and play your part in reducing travel and thereby reducing the speed of the spread of the virus and that is so important in avoiding needless lives being lost. We will love seeing you again later in the year
— Visit Cornwall (@ILoveCornwallUK) March 22, 2020
Others have also made this deliberate shift in tone, asking people to stay away rather than plan a visit. Road to the Isles, a tourism group which represents more than 100 businesses in Scotland, has urged people to avoid the region in order to protect vulnerable communities now struggling to cope with demand.
The National Trust is taking more extreme action. Despite announcing just last week that it would open many of its parks and gardens for free to help people deal with social distancing, it has since decided to close them, stating that the amount of visitors is making it impossible to maintain distance. Its coastal and countryside locations remain open, however it’s likely that they will also be restricted if visitors continue to flock there.
We’ve taken the decision to close our parks and gardens to restrict the spread of coronavirus. Our countryside and coastal locations remain open with parking charges waived, but we encourage people to stay local and observe social distancing. pic.twitter.com/HmXrz2efft
— National Trust (@nationaltrust) March 21, 2020
Looking to the future
As travel and tourism brands hit the pause button on planned marketing activities, many are still taking an inspirational approach. This involves giving consumers reassurance and hope that things will eventually return to normal, and encouraging them to think about future travel plans instead of the present moment.
Switzerland’s tourist board is a particularly good example of this, giving users on social media a slice of Switzerland from afar, using hashtags like #neverstopdreaming and #staystrong to bolster morale.
Travel publisher Lonely Planet is another focusing on the positive, turning its attention to the potential good that might arise from the current situation rather than anything negative.
This includes promoting happy news stories, creating content on how-to still enjoy travel-related pursuits at home, and educating people on how to stay safe if they need to move around.
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For airlines and other organisations that are more directly affected, the impetus is naturally on customer support, and helping people to navigate cancellations and refunds. Of course, many are also encouraging customers to postpone trips rather than cancelling them completely, out of hope that things will be able to return to normal sooner rather than later.
Positively, a recent report from Izea suggests that self-isolation could lead to an increase in consumers researching future holidays. A survey found that 55% of US consumers who usually travel five or more times per year say they ‘may’ or will ‘likely’ purchase a future holiday while confined to their homes during the Coronavirus outbreak, while this rises to 61% for those who travel frequently for business purposes.
Taking positive action
As organisations take steps to portray a hopeful attitude, others are taking more proactive action to positively contribute to the situation.
Transportation app Citymapper, for example, has released an updated ‘Mobility Index’ to shine a light on how people are moving around the world’s cities. The feature (based on app data) revealed that 31% of London was still travelling around the city on Friday 20th March, despite the government’s recommendations to stay home. With that said, it’s quite likely that a large majority of this percentage are considered key workers, and are therefore still required to travel in order to get to work.
Regardless, the feature is particularly interesting when used to compare how many people are moving around in comparison to other cities where the pandemic is also rife.
NEW: figures from @Citymapper show that people in Britain are paying less attention to social distancing guidelines than those elsewhere in Western Europe and in North America. (1/7) https://t.co/19X7SSD1Sw
— James Tozer (@J_CD_T) March 22, 2020
Elsewhere in the travel industry, organisations are doing what they can to assist customers, as well as those directly affected by Coronavirus. Prestige Travel, for instance, is one of many travel agencies to relax its booking policies and waive fees for customers changing the date or destination of their upcoming trip. According to the Telegraph, Prestige is also focusing its “12 months of good deeds” pledge – which it began in January – to those affected by Coronavirus, such as creating care packages for the elderly.
The Telegraph also reports how London-based tour operator, Experience Travel Group, has begun reaching out to people in the local community, with staff volunteering to help people self-isolating with activities like grocery shopping or running other errands.
Of course, another consequence of the coronavirus is that many people within the travel and hospitality industries are now out of work. Fortunately, other sectors which are finding themselves more stretched than ever, such as supermarkets and grocery stores, are doing their bit to help lessen the impact. It was just announced that both Lidl and Asda are launching recruitment drives to hire people who have lost their jobs with travel or hospitality companies.
As the travel industry braces itself for further consequences, many of which are not yet known, focus will undoubtedly turn to the things that can still be controlled – such as customer care – as well as the wider acts of kindness that can help.