With all travel companies being at a standstill right now, Bruce Poon Tip, the Founder of G Adventures, sees the travel industry as the largest start up economy in the world. During this pivotal time, he said the industry has the power to reset in order to come out better than before.
“It’s created like a start up mentality in the industry,” he said. “We have an opportunity as a travel industry to do better when it comes to travel. As we all go into hibernation and wait until we can travel again – and we must travel again. But we can do it better. We can rethink everything we thought was normal. Why fight so damn hard to return to normal when the opportunity to transform travel is on the other side of this mess?”
Looking ahead, Poon Tip told Travel Courier that he sees travellers shifting towards more FIT and small group exploration, and away from mass crowds.
“More and more people will be connected to more remote places,” he said. “Hopefully this is an awakening to people about being more connected to destinations. If we learn anything as a society from the pandemic, it’s how connected everything is, just seeing how fast this spread around the world.”
Although a vaccine would be a game changer for getting the travel industry restarted again, he believes some parts of the industry will never return to normal — particularly when it comes to the changing travel patterns amongst the most vulnerable population (those who are 70 and older) who would likely avoid any shoulder to shoulder travel situations.
“I think people have very short term memory when it comes to these things. It’s a fluid situation. I don’t think our issue is just opening up borders because I think borders are going to open up long before people feel confident getting on a flight and comfortable getting on a flight,” he said. “For us, like all travel companies, we’ve all gone into hibernation mode at the moment. We’ve done all these tough decisions and changes and all of us have taken advantage of furlough schemes and had to deal with terminations as well because none of us are going to be the same size on the other side of this, the numbers of people aren’t going to be needed for some time until we have a bounce back to where we were before this.”
Being transparent and offering flexibility surrounding bookings will be key to regaining consumer confidence in travelling.
“On the other side of this there’s a chance that there are going to be less companies. I think the strong brands are going to survive. I think we were getting a bit ridiculous in terms of people being really motivated by price point — booking any scale or any kind of resort or going anywhere they can based on price,” he said. “I think people who continue to travel are going to be, I won’t say picky, but they’re going to ask more questions. They’re going to book more confidently with brands who have a good reputation. Travellers are going to be smarter, wiser and ask more questions”
Although there are many moving variables to consider, he sees a bounce back in bookings coming to fruition later this year.
“People are still booking trips with us, that’s a real surprise and they’re actually going up. My feeling is we’re going to have a bounce back, not to normal, but a bounce back to business in the latter quarter of this year and to have trips back up and running early next,” he said, noting that it will take some time for business to get back to where it was before. “That’s our hope but there are so many factors that play into that. I have to say I am starting to hear what I want to hear. Someone came out and said they’re going to have a vaccine in a few months, I don’t know how that’s possible, but I want to believe it…”
Although G Adventures already operates small group sizes, he believes there will also be a huge training proponent going forward across small scale operators and hotels to comply with travellers’ new expectations surrounding hygiene and cleanliness, as well as health and safety standards and protocols. Another factor to consider will be around giving travellers the ability to have their own rooms rather than shared accommodations, as well as reconsidering methods of transportation like public transit or destination specific options like a chicken bus, which will also impact operations.
“I think the biggest thing is probably the flexibility in the short term in terms of the restrictions we have traditionally on booking, so changing our operation procedures to give customers flexibility should they want to cancel, should they want to move trips, to book with confidence,” he said. “That’s a whole contracting process for us because when someone books a trip with us, we start spending money in terms of deposits on hotels, booking transportation, hiring people to create these great experiences. We’ve often had, they’re quite strict cancellation and change policies because it’s very expensive to change someone, but I think now all hotels and all transportation providers are realizing that on the other side of this, there’s going to have to be a huge amount of flexibility for customers to book with confidence, knowing that their trips could be changed, or they can be moved, that there’s flexibility for that.”