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Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: May 25, 2020
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One adversary, one challenge, one goal

Let’s get through this together

BRETT WALKER

In this week’s issue of Canadian Travel Press, industry veteran Brett Walker offers a thoughtful contribution on the challenges that he believes the industry faces in the war against COVID-19 and, no matter what those challenges are, hope that the industry will persevere.

We’re a positive industry by nature but COVID-19 is pushing our sunny disposition to the limit.

Walker

I’ve heard many times ‘we’ll get through it.’ Yes, the industry will, but make no mistake about it, we’re fighting a war. Battles will be won and lost.

Legions of health care workers are on the front lines. Essential services are mobilized and fueling the fight. The rest of us are hunkered in, staying out of sight, biding our time. It’s bound to be a long time.

So yes, we’ll get through it but there will be casualties.

The ‘new normal’ compared to the ‘old normal’ isn’t going to be a matter of degrees; it’s goingto entail an entirely new outlook and a whole different set of calculations.

So, what might this new normal look like? It’s really anyone’s guess, but there will be some immense changes that are, even now, self-evident. These changes will affect every facet of our industry and perhaps more importantly the travellers we serve.

For all the commendations the industry received for its efforts to repatriate Canadians in March and April, it’s now seemingly encumbered by consumers’ wrath over future travel credits.

Despite endorsements of these travel credits from the CTA and other regulatory bodies, thousands of customers have mobilized against the industry.

One notable class action, filed on behalf of Plaintiff Janet Donaldson, notes in the Statement of Claim, “the class includes tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of affected passengers.” Regardless of the legitimacy of this or other suits, the consequences of such action is often far greater than the reward. Rebuilding consumers’ trust will be a collective effort.

The psychological effects of the pandemic are bound to be profound. When travel restrictions are eased and eventually lifted, there will be some lingering fear and hesitation. Fear of the unknown and hesitation if customers have any doubt of what they read or are being told. Amongst even avid travellers there will be reticence, if not resistance, to any old, stodgy, established rules or cryptic terms and conditions. In fact, the new-normal’s new-customer will be armed with their own terms and conditions.

When consumers book again, they’ll want more control. They won’t be so enticed by supply-driven pricing or offers that in the past had them forfeit certain privileges of a standard sale.

Consumers will also want more choices; choices that are predicated on their own needs. And yes, they’ll expect more flexibility from travel suppliers.

Fact is, when consumers are ready to travel – they’re going on the offensive. They’re going to demand more, want more and yes – they’re going to get more too.

With any travel purchase, especially for Canadians, insurance is of paramount importance. For consumers to feel confident to travel, they will have to know they are covered in event they contract any illness, especially a respiratory one.

There can’t be any carve-outs or exemptions.

While some insurers stopped covering COVID-19 once it was declared a ‘known event,’ a few did not. For the foreseeable future, travellers will have to be choosy of their insurance options but comprehensive options do exist – without any such carve-outs. However, we won’t see a significant demand recovery until COVID-19 coverage is more broadly available across the insurance spectrum.

Yet we still aren’t sure what the recovery will look like on a grand scale. The longer and more precipitous the decline and more distant the horizon is for recovery, the greater the challenges for all.

Demand may have been turned off in the short term, but supply will suffer the greatest consequences. The devastating impact of the current travel restrictions and work stoppage is obvious, but the long-term effects of constrained supply due to social distancing and other epidemiological controls will be the new normal.

Eventually, I’m quite certain, we’ll all embrace it, but while we are in the midst of transitioning, we’ll see supply under immense pressure.

What’s promising, is that through these uncertain times the industry has come together.

There is one adversary – one challenge – one goal… and that’s to get through this together. We may be in for the fight of our lives but guess what – we’ve thought that before and somehow persevered.

I’m betting on that happening again.

 

 

 

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