But They Need Your Help: There was a sense of urgency tempered with a degree of confidence, determination and hope as a panel of tour operators who sell Visit USA product in Canada and Mexico met late last week in Connect Travel’s “Staying Connected” series of virtual roundtables to discuss travel to the United States from Mexico and Canada during and after the COVID-19 driven global pandemic that has brought international tourism to a grinding halt. Remember that Canada and Mexico account for half of all international inbound travel to the U.S.
Panelists for the roundtable included:
Kristine Geary, president and CEO, Maple Leaf Tours; Karla Urias, owner, PasswordTravel.com/ViajaTravel.com; Alberto Cervera, head of Mexico, TUI Destination Services; and Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel and general manager, Connect Travel Events.
Here, INBOUND highlights the key takeaways from the session:
—For the moment, many operators are in a survival mode.
Explained Kristine Geary: “We’re In survival mode. It’s been refund, refund, refund. When this all began, the motto was ‘don’t cancel, rebook.” As time has progressed, we’re finding that more and more of our clients want refunds.”
—Think about survival, yes. But also think beyond survival. Now is a time to refocus your products and thinking about how you are going to implement a new normal.
As Alberto Cervara put it, “I think the survival mode for us is gone. It was real during the first weeks. Yes, we still have problems. We still have to refund. But right now, we are focusing 150 percent of our energies in re-inventing ourselves and re-inventing our business – trying to figure out what this will look like within one week, within one month, within one year, trying to use this not as a tragedy … but as an opportunity to see things in a very different way, to try to do things in a different way: How do we want to really want to satisfy our clients. What products do we want to sell What services do we want to sell?”
—Once the environment for travel has improved, there should be a strong surge of activity, as there is already a buildup of pent-up demand, and people will want to travel, will want to reconnect with the travel experience.
—In order to help the tour operator segment recover, DMOs, travel suppliers and hotels should be flexible—flexible with rates and, flexible with space.
—Now is the time to refresh your online content, image and videos. Operators have time to review them and to update their materials. When the industry re-starts, they will probably be too busy to take the time to review these materials.
—Expect travelers to change their spending habits.
All panelists agreed with what Kristine Geary said: “When we are through this, people are going to come out of this with different spending habits. They are not going to be collecting ‘things’ or buying ‘stuff.’ They are going to be wanting experiences and they will never take their free time for granted again.”
—New health and safety protocols will raise questions about physical and other changes to the tourism product and infrastructure: that is, will the all-inclusive resort experience remain as they were? Will the 500-seat restaurant stay? Will health tests and other costs be a part of the travel package?
To view and listen to the session, click here.