While the pandemic has been devastating in so many ways, Leigh Barnes, Chief Customer Officer at Intrepid Travel said it has also provided the tourism industry with the opportunity to reflect on things that could be done better – for travellers, suppliers, local communities, and the planet.
“Travellers will also be reflecting on how they live and travel post COVID-19. We fundamentally believe that travel can only rebound stronger if it rebuilds more responsibly. Tour operators, together with local governments and destination management offices, need to work together. Now is the time for the industry to share solutions,” Barnes told Travel Courier. “Once the situation begins to subside and travellers are ready to start thinking about their next adventure, tour operators will need to be honest, open and clear in their communications, particularly around how they plan to run their tours to ensure safety and how they would handle a health concern within a group.”
In a post-coronavirus reset of the touring sector, Barnes feels small group travel, which is Intrepid’s specialty, will become the new norm.
“We believe that it will be travel companies that are most connected with their local communities who will be best placed to provide real reassurance when travel returns. The coronavirus crisis has reinforced the importance of our local destination management companies and their relationships with our local suppliers,” he noted. “We understand that once our customers start to travel again, they will want to know that we will continue to meet high safety standards in all aspects of our trips, be it the local accommodation we offer, the local restaurants we eat at, or the equipment we use on our active tours, for example. We have a global network of local offices who will be working with our partners on the ground to ensure our customers and our communities are safe.”
In 2019, Intrepid travellers were increasingly expecting companies to take climate action and overtourism was a big issue. Post COVID-19, travellers will be looking for companies to demonstrate their sustainability credentials, he said.
“One of the silver linings of coronavirus has been the reports of fish returning to the canals of Venice and the biggest boost to numbers of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades after Thailand’s beaches were emptied of tourists,” he said.
For now, Intrepid has paused all trips globally until September 30, based on the likelihood that international borders will remain closed for an extended period of time.
“Domestic travel will come back first as people will feel more confident with their own government’s assurances and precautions to feel comfortable to explore their own backyard. International travel will begin to make a comeback this year, but much of it may depend on the politics around the reciprocal opening of borders between nations,” he said. “With most people spending a good portion of 2020 indoors, travellers that may have previously opted for an urban setting may now want to get outdoors and stay active with tours centered around cycling, trekking and mindfulness.”
Overall, he notes that Intrepid travellers are more resilient than most, and many have spent the time in lockdown booking bucket list trips to destinations like Morocco, Peru, Australia, Antarctica and the Galapagos.
“The world has changed dramatically over the past few months and many people are suffering huge personal losses in more ways than one. This pandemic has proved that the most vulnerable people tend to be impacted the most by the worldwide cessation of travel. The homestay hosts in Peru or local safari guides in Kenya will not be given bailouts like major airlines and hotels,” he said. “The locally-owned restaurants, contracted tour leaders, homestay hosts – all of these people rely on foreign tourists to support themselves and their families. The best way for us to continue to support our local suppliers is to run a good business and to start travelling again when it is safe to do so.”
Barnes believes good governance and strong health and safety practices will be more important than ever in establishing consumer trust.
“We’re currently reviewing best practices with our suppliers and looking at things like contactless check-in processes and increased transparency on hygiene. I think what’s needed will become clearer in the coming weeks,” he said. “Transparency will be key to establishing and maintaining trust. External certifications that demonstrate a company’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of their customers – in addition to the planet and the communities they visit – will become an important marker of trust to build consumer confidence.”