There have been few things for the travel industry to feel grateful for in 2020, but reaching December and surviving this long year has got to be one of them.
Since Oasis Travel opened its doors in 1984, I can undoubtedly say this year has been the most arduous to date.
As we have now reached December, it is definitely time for reflection, as we look to put this turbulent year into our rear-view mirror and make changes in preparation for 2021.
Planning ahead sparks many questions for me, and no doubt for many others in the travel community. Will the vaccine bring confidence to the market and will January see the start of our long-awaited recovery with a surge of new business?
With depleted cashflow, when are we going to receive balances and have some contribution to our ongoing costs? It is very difficult to foresee these outcomes and optimally prepare for uncertain times, but a key factor in moving forward will be flexibility.
Flexibility in staff working hours, getting the balance right between furlough and worked hours and branch opening times. Flexibility for customers is essential to reassure them that if circumstances change, we can alter their travel plans confidently.
Also, flexibility in adapting to new requirements by quickly implementing ideas and evolving how we do business.
At this point in any other year we would be working towards the various travel shows and events that take place in January, as we look to kick off the new year with an influx of new business, happy customers and exciting experiences.
These will certainly not happen in the same way in 2021, but may not disappear completely. People will exchange their event ticket for a Zoom link, transforming their physical presence into a virtual journey. It is important to reach out to customers and communicate in a different way through new channels.
We have had great success with our virtual events so far and intend to continue with them. Continuing to inspire, educate and inform our customers is vitally important and gives them confidence to travel.
We want people to see that we are open for business and being proactive in our approach to maintain that essential contact with our customers. Relationships are crucial in what we do, and we want to build connections and use our experience to give people something to look forward to – helping to create their perfect travel experience.
With the announcement that Northern Ireland was going into a second lockdown at the end of November, we had to think about our strategy over this period.
The first lockdown was a continuous cycle of refunds, amendments, early starts and late finishes… it truly was Groundhog Day. The role of a travel agent was forced to change. We are choosing to see the second lockdown as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. This time we intend to seize an element of control.
Control in how we interact and communicate with our customers, how we engage and upskill our teams and how we partner with our suppliers.
The offerings may be unique, the experiences may look different, the routes may be unfamiliar, but we have a duty to work together, share inspirational journeys and give hope to those who love to travel.
I wish you all a happy Christmas and dramatically better new year.
Sandra Corkin is managing director of Oasis Travel