The top takeaway from the recent panel discussion domestic tour operators, held as a part of Connect Travel’s ongoing “Staying Connected—Virtual Roundtable Series” was the need for their partners to be flexible as they work to make it through until that point at which the tour and travel industry has recovered from the impact of the coronavirus global pandemic.
(Photo) Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel and general manager, Connect Travel events, moderated the session. And the operators who took part in the discussion included: Charlene Troggio, owner, Breakaway Tours; Suzanne Slavitter, owner, Sports Empire Inc./Authentic California Vacations; Joey Spellerberg, president, Moostash Joe Tours; and Gary L. Haverkamp, product manager, Vacations By Rail – A Great Rail Journeys Company.
Key Takeaways from the Session:
1. Flexibility: Operators are working hard to get tours moving again; offering fully refundable programs and stressing safe and clean protocols to entice clients and make them feel safe. They need help with the details. Terms and Conditions have varied and grown more stringent as the industry has celebrated record years. Look at your cancellation, deposit and comp policies. Be flexible on all terms and conditions, as we work together on recovery.
2. New Product: Rescheduling 2020 customers into 2021 has caused operators to come up short on key products for next year. While contracting new or additional products are exciting for suppliers, tour operators are a bit nervous. Take this opportunity to review what was on the books for 2020 and check availability for 2021. Create and share enticing offers; just be mindful of rate, T’s & C’s and operator apprehension.
3. Testing the Water: The creation of “Introductory Tours” is a way for tour operators to test the water with their clients. These are generally close to home, 1-day programs with enticing pricing. Review activities and tours in your area and create offerings that may work well for these types of programs.
4. Guidance: Updated information on guidelines, protocols and openings are essential for tour operators. Regular updates on restaurants, area openings, safety requirements, urgent care locations, COVID testing centers, and visitor center specifics (hours, facilities, etc) are appreciated.
5: Connect: Operators need and want to know about your destinations, services and activities. Please be mindful that most are still working from home or only in the office a few days a week. Responses may be slow but know they look forward to hearing from you.
Selected quotes gleaned from the panel discussion include the following:
—Suzanne Slavitter: “It’s been a real challenger for us. We’re hoping that the Kentucky Derby (rescheduled from May 1 to September 4) will lift back off on the new date, which is held Labor Day weekend. So, we’re hopeful for September.
—Charlene Troggio: “We’re really trying for the reschedule. We’ve probably had to refund 300-400 checks, or charge backs, so far. But there are a lot of people who are willing to keep their money in the pot and are hoping to reschedule.”
—Joey Spellerberg: “We’ve come out with a ‘Peace of Mind’ policy. Part of the ‘Peace of Mind’ policy is that we’re not only trying to get our customer’s trust when it comes to booking; when they book at this point, we’re offering a full refund to the date of departure, no questions asked. During this time frame, it’s going to require a lot of flexibility from you (DMOs and suppliers) to help us.
—Gary Haverkamp: “We’ve had a very high percentage of bookings (81 percent) that have moved to 2021. On strategic products, we are going out and getting more space for 2021, because we already have sold-out dates—there would be no more room for new bookings. To help garner some confidence in the traveler, we’ve reduced our deposit requirements and made them refundable up to a certain period of time so we could at least get more business on the books.”