Pushing the envelope

Think outside the box

Ann Ruppenstein

Creative ways to fuel travel businesses responsibly during the pandemic​

In order to survive over the past few months, travel companies have adapted, made core business adjustments and found creative ways to move forward and drive future business in a responsible manner.

This week, Travel Courier chats with Intrepid Travel, Air Canada and Globus family of brands about some of the innovative ways they’re staying top of mind with travellers and agents alike.

Mikey Sadowski, Intrepid Travel

With COVID-19 impacting not only the entire travel industry but the world at large, Intrepid Travel made the decision to change its marketing strategy.

This is not business as usual, and we can’t pretend in our marketing that there isn’t a global pandemic happening, so we’ve really had to shift our strategy right now into two verticals: communication and promotion,” Mikey Sadowski, Marketing Director, Intrepid Travel, tells Travel Courier. “The overarching goal in our marketing is adding value to our customers, our community, and the entire travel industry. We measure marketing success in this climate around providing a sense of community to travellers and bringing the world closer to them, while also showing trust and leadership and proving that we are focused on delivering the best travel experience possible whenever it is safe and suitable to do so.

Over the past few months, Intrepid purposely shifted to utilize user-generated content on social media, telling stories of how travellers have been impacted by travel, and the people who made the experience special.

“Using user-generated content in your marketing makes it more authentic and less promotional, while fostering connections and nurturing engagement. For the past several months, our user-generated storytelling has resulted in our top performing social media posts globally. These posts offer a deep human element that really help travellers feel more connected with the world and to each other,” Sadowski says. “For many, the people you meet along the way when you’re travelling become such an important part of the experience. Now that our community can’t travel as freely as they’re used to, we aim to create a much stronger sense of community by highlighting the stories of our travellers and leaders. In this period of self-isolation and social distancing, we feel this is more important than ever.”

Intrepid is also actively using its channels to educate the community during the pandemic about the importance of the travel industry rebuilding more responsibly.

“For example, over the last few months we’ve used our social channels to make clear commitments in solidarity with the fight against systemic racism and oppression, provided tips for a plastic-free lifestyle and launched our new 10-Step Quick Start Guide to Decarbonise Your Travel Business,” he says. “It’s imperative for us to use this period of travel cessation to ensure the return of travel is more sustainable and ethical, so that our earth is preserved for future generations to explore.”

Although not yet in place for the domestic market in Canada, Intrepid introduced new Closer To Home tours, which are curated by locals for locals and are tailored to each country’s individual restrictions, including over 75 multi-day tours in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

“With the majority of international borders still closed, we’ve shifted our focus recently to develop new product catered to local travellers who are interested in exploring domestically and regionally,” he says, noting that they have upcoming plans for expansion in North America. “Highlighting this new range of tours is a new theme called Intrepid Retreats. This innovative new trip type is a first for us, one in which groups immerse themselves in one location in handpicked accommodation ranging from small boutique properties to glamping, with nearby experiences ranging from hikes to wineries to farm visits, foraging, and more. These retreats celebrate ‘slow travel’ and allow adventurers to engage with the surrounding communities away from the crowds.”

The company will also be re-launching day tours through Intrepid Urban Adventures in select North American cities starting this summer through the end of the year, all with enhanced safety guidelines.   

In preparation for travel to resume, Sadowski says they introduced a new Flexible Bookings policy last month to make travellers feel at ease when booking their trips.

“We have also taken extra care to ensure all of our trips meet the highest level of cleanliness standards and we are working closely with our suppliers and teams on the ground to implement new policies such as pre-trip health assessments, contactless check-in processes and increased transparency on hygiene,” he continues.

Looking ahead, he says the reopening of travel will look very different across different parts of the globe.

“It’s really important that we look at the full picture of not only when Canadians, Americans and beyond can travel internationally again, but also when local communities around the world will be able to host travellers comfortably and safely,” he says. “For now, safety is our biggest priority and we have been working tirelessly to ensure we have the world’s best safety and hygiene practices on all our trips for when travel does return to its pre-COVID levels, which have been endorsed by the World Travel & Tourism Council.”

Lisa Pierce, Air Canada

When COVID-19 became a reality for the airline in March, Lisa Pierce, Managing Director, Canada & USA Sales, Air Canada, says one of their initial responses was to suspend onboard service.

Now, the carrier is shifting strategies by restoring service complete with a new partnership with Montreal based Chef Jerome Ferrer, who will design meals for Premium Economy and Economy Class customers on international flights departing Canada.

Chef Ferrer will join celebrated Canadian Chefs David Hawksworth, Antonio Park and Vikram Vij, whose meals will be offered once more on Air Canada flights beginning late this month as we begin to restore our award winning onboard service program,” Pierce tells Travel Courier. “We are also starting to reopen our Maple Leaf Lounges with new biosafety measures.

Air Canada also announced special benefits and accommodations for Aeroplan and Altitude members in light of COVID-19.

“These include pausing mileage expiration, grandfathering mileage-earned status, waiving certain change and redeposit fees, and launching new promotions so that members can earn additional Aeroplan Miles without leaving home,” she adds.

Noting that necessity is the mother of invention, Pierce points out that a number of changes were also made to adapt the product like implementing a touch free bag check process for all domestic flights from Toronto, Montreal and Calgary airports, which is being expanded to other airports across both domestic and international departures. 

“In very short order we were forced to make many changes to the way we deliver our products and services,” she says. “In July we also introduced virtual queuing at primary Canadian airports to more efficiently manage wait times at select counters. Customers requiring service from an airport agent can simply scan their boarding card to enter a virtual queue and they will be notified via their smartphone to proceed to the counter for assistance.”

To help spread the word about newly implemented safety measures, including the CleanCare+ biosafety program which sees travellers complete temperature checks and health screening questions prior to boarding, has a requirement to wear face coverings, the provision of care kits for customers that include sanitizer and wipes, and new cleaning protocols that include the use of electrostatic sprayers, Air Canada recently held several flights for industry leaders to see the process in action.

Ready for takeoff 

“Despite all the information we are making available to agencies and to the traveling public, there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself,” she says. “For many it was their first post COVID-19 flight. Creating ambassadors of travel that can provide information to the traveling public from direct experience is probably one of the most powerful measures we can take to build customer confidence. We are currently looking for ways for travel agents to experience flying again including relaxing some of the restrictions on industry tickets.”

In addition to a multi-layered approach to safety, she says factors like flexible booking policies and access to information on where customers can travel and information on what that new travel experience will be, are key to regaining business during this challenging time.

To assist customers with navigating the changing status of travel restrictions, she says Air Canada is directing travellers to resources found on the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable’s Time to Travel website, like the “Where Can I Travel Right Now” interactive map and information on where Canadians can travel with little to no restrictions.

“What we do know is that this industry is resilient and will return to and exceed 2019 levels. It is not a matter of if, but rather when. We will have a better idea of the pace of recovery once a vaccine becomes available at scale,” Pierce says. “Our CEO Calin Rovinescu has publicly stated he believes it will likely be at least three years to return to 2019 levels. That said, we are planning for the summer and will be serving 91 destinations. That includes 41 airports in Canada including new service to Cranbrook, Penticton and Smithers. In August we will be adding back service to Dallas, Portland, Phoenix and Las Vegas in the U.S. Internationally in August we will be serving 14 destinations, including Shanghai, with 500 flights. We look forward to welcoming our customers and business partners on board!”

Stéphanie Bishop, Globus

Although travel agents have always been key to driving business, Globus quite literally wrote the book on it during the pandemic.

Travel advisors have never offered more value,” Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director, Globus family of brands, tells Travel Courier. “We produced and distributed a “Why Book with a Travel Advisor” e-guide to showcase that fact and help the advisor community spread the word.

Having been in business for nearly a century, she says the travel company has a long and varied history of adapting to meet the evolving needs of travellers.

“This situation is no exception. For example, this month, we unveiled new Small-Group Discovery tours, catering to no more than 24 guests in exotic destinations across the globe,” she says. “In June, we also revealed even more Undiscovered tours, including innovative, off-the-beaten-path exploration in our own backyard with a new series of Undiscovered North America itineraries. Avalon Waterways, too, has taken this moment to showcase what makes small-ship cruising so special with new ports – and possibilities – in Europe. In May, we unveiled plans for five new ports of call. Our Active & Discovery cruises also take travellers down cobblestones less traveled with immersive and authentic Active and Discovery excursions.”

During this “time out,” she says engaging with travel advisors has been at the forefront through virtual training sessions, including a new Destination Series of webinars with tourism boards.

“Through these efforts, we have reached more than 2,500 advisors,” she says. “We are also instilling confidence with advisors – and their clients – by offering a great deal of certainty in uncertain times.”

This is being achieved through flexible booking policies, as well as Letters of Credit and booking incentives to help reset vacation plans, while also protecting advisor commissions.

“The built-in travel expertise tours and river cruises provide travellers has never been more important,” she says. “As a result, we are well-positioned to help travel agents and their clients navigate the path back to travel with the peace of mind they need thanks to on-trip support, new health and safety guidelines as well as off-the-beaten-path experiences and exploration, close to home and across the globe.”

Globus also utilized the time to shift some of their marketing and sales strategies to help advisors and clients dream about – and anticipate – their next, great travel adventure with the “Dreaming Doesn’t Stop” campaign.

“We initiated this program in early April, including sending a video to advisors, meant to inspire them (and their clients) to dream about what’s next,” she adds. “We have also invested in incredible – and incredibly strong – on-trip assurances featuring new procedures and protocols for both river cruising and tours. These programs, developed with our Global Health & Safety team, have helped instil confidence in advisors – and their clients – that when the world is ready, we will be ready to deliver the world – once again – to travellers.”

Overall, she’s confident that travellers can and should place their trust in tours and small-ship cruising on their journey back to travel.

“Based on trend insight and booking projections, we feel confident that tours and small-ship cruising will bounce back more quickly than other forms of travel, thanks to the built-in value, benefits and support they provide travellers,” Bishop says. “We are witnessing record bookings for 2021, in part, thanks to Letters of Credit. We’re also seeing strong early bookings for the 2022 travel season. Travellers feel confident that the uncertainties felt today thanks to COVID-19 will pass by then.”

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