Travel brands’ behaviour during lockdown will impact their recovery, a WTM panel concluded.
Representatives from the ski, cruise and airline sector predicted consumers would go to brands that had treated them well – and would seek agents’ help.
Craig Burton, chief executive of ski specialist Active Travel Group, said firms that were still around would be judged by their behaviour during lockdown over refunds and rebooking.
“The ski industry has not shown itself well. We have seen examples of people pulling down the shutters and just disappearing.”
Burton said the restart would not be about discounting in his sector.
“Pre-Covid, the sector had swelled to the point where there were an awful lot of parties out there and quite frankly, not enough skiers.”
Lee Haslett, vice-president global sales, Virgin Atlantic, said post lockdown would be about brands “that actually deliver” and which look after customers, rather than discounting.
He added: “I really believe travel agents have looked after customers and will keep those customers. Those businesses that have looked after customers will be more important than ever because consumers will want confidence.”
Jo Rzymowska, vice-president and managing director, EMEA, Celebrity Cruises, said the brand had used the time to look at its business “and how we want to come back”.
“From research we have done, values that have a purpose are really, truly important,” she said.
Initiatives such as increasing the number of female officers on the bridge from 2% to 27% in five years had done well with consumers.
“Guests that don’t have these values or it’s not important to them, we are finding are moving away from us or we are moving away from them.”
All agreed a testing regime would re-start their sectors.
Haslett said the industry needed a commitment that there would be a testing regime in place by December. He said there was clear demand to fly, as Virgin had been successful on the routes it had reintroduced.
“Anything we are flying has decent load factors and positive yields.”
Burton added: “Testing, testing, testing, is what is going to get this sector moving.
“It’s quarantine restrictions, not public health fears, that are currently preventing people getting on a plane.”
He said he was “very optimistic” about starting operations “by the turn of the year”. “Looking at February and March, we are confident we will have a viable ski season this winter.”
“We want to be talking about zooming down beautifully gleaming slopes rather than Zooming on our PCs.”
Burton said resorts had all summer to perfect safety protocols. “Lifts in most countries are considered public transport. In France it’s the same as the Paris Metro”. However, he said apres-ski would not be about “drinking and dancing on tables” this season.
Rzymowska added there was also pent-up demand for her sector: “I genuinely believe the comeback will be stronger than the setback – people can’t wait to go on holiday.”