Alison Hickey, president of Kensington Tours, said health and safety will obviously be the biggest factor for people travelling post COVID-19.
“If consumers are constantly worried about things like distancing and touch when they travel, it will be impossible for them to get any enjoyment or value out of the experience,” she told Travel Courier. “We as an industry need to work together to give people a sense of real confidence about every touchpoint along the journey – getting through the airport, on the plane, at your hotel, seeing and moving around your destination. And we’re seeing that work happen on a daily basis with our in-country teams right now.”
Coming out of the pandemic, she also thinks that people will feel what it means to travel more deeply, more powerfully.
“We’ll be much more conscious of why we’re travelling, and of making the most of the moments we get with the people we meet and new places we explore,” she said. “We as humans have a fundamental need to connect with each other, and travel plays a big role in enabling that connection to happen.”
As for what’s needed for group tour operators to bounce back, she said travel companies will need to establish and implement strong guidelines about how they function with distancing and other health measures in place.
At Kensington Tours, which focuses on private-guided tours that are customized for each client, she said their travellers are the only ones with the local guide and as such aren’t part of a larger group where one would have to be more concerned about keeping a distance from other travellers.
“That’s a strong foundation for the additional work we’re doing to ensure that we limit our clients’ outside contacts and other preventative measures,” she said. “As a brand that’s so focused on each client individually, we’re anticipating that everyone will have their own personal ‘go’ moment for travel. That may mean being ready to get on a plane to spend two weeks in a destination overseas, and we’re always able to craft custom private-guided experiences for them. But it may also mean being ready to get in the car for a road trip somewhere more familiar and closer to home. That’s very understandable. And we’ll be able to craft custom private-guided experiences for those clients too.”
As for advice to other companies seeking to regain consumer confidence in travelling, she said to focus on listening to customers instead of trying to fight the reality of the situation or hope that the world is going to go back to the way it was.
“Be open to what they’re feeling and doing today,” she said. “Let them drive how you move forward, and how you change your business. Because like it or not, the next couple of years are absolutely going to be the most innovative we’ve ever seen in our industry.”