Is that a light I see at the end of the tunnel? It might just be.
After a long and difficult 12 months, the end does finally appear to be in sight.
There will no doubt be a few stumbles and missteps (that’s the thing about dark tunnels, they’re hard to navigate), but at least we can see where we’re heading.
Why am I willing to allow myself such optimism? The world-beating speed and success of the UK’s vaccination programme is an obvious factor, as is the mood music coming out of the Global Travel Taskforce.
I’m heartened by both. It has also been great to hear the positive announcements being made by various tourism ministers across the Med, and their plans to reopen to British tourists this summer.
So much of what we sell in the travel industry is about instilling reassurance, confidence and comfort in our customers.
In short, trust. It’s infectious – if we feel confident, so do they. The industry is responding to the general change in mood around short-haul travel – instilling holiday-hungry Brits with the confidence they’ll be able to get away safely and securely this summer – and we’re now seeing that spread to the long-haul sector as well.
In the days following the prime minister’s announcement of the roadmap in February, our overall revenue increased by a third and the number of room nights being booked for travel later this year jumped by more than 40%.
The fact that the average value of each booking also substantially increased was a further indication to me consumers are feeling more confident – not only that their holidays will happen as planned, but that we have their backs if something has to change.
But what’s reassuring me is that no one is taking unnecessary risks. The majority of our bookings are for travel later this year and into 2022, and are to “tried-and-trusted” destinations like Florida, Dubai, the Maldives and the Caribbean.
Our agent partners are giving sensible advice, and customers are heeding it.
For me, one of the greatest mistakes we could make now is to allow overexcitement get the better of us. The fact is, there is still a long way to go – although we can see the light, we’re still in the tunnel. The papers, airwaves and social media feeds are clogged with speculation and opinion about what needs to happen and when – and presenting guesswork as fact risks encouraging customers to make hasty decisions based on variables.
We can’t forget the reputational damage caused to our industry by the refunds debacle of last year. The fact is, hope isn’t a strategy. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Consumer confidence stems from our expertise and trustworthiness. If we want to emerge stronger from this tunnel, let’s take a prudent, careful route out of it – and resist falling over in a dash for the exit.
Lisa McAuley is managing director of Gold Medal Travel 2