We need travel. Individuals need it, companies need it, countries need it. Tourism constitutes a huge proportion of local economies and it helps stressed-out people reconnect to themselves and their loved ones.
After three decades of planning, building, re-building and a lot of extra money, the Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport is ready to open – just in time for new travel restrictions to hit. Since March 2020, Lufthansa has had to take a €9bn bailout, Airbnb’s quarterly revenue dropped by 67%, and GetYourGuide saw bookings for experiences fall by nearly 50%. Now doesn’t look like a good time to be in the tourism sector.
However, given the ongoing uncertainty of the global pandemic, sitting back and waiting for the storm to pass simply isn’t an option.
So what can travel startups do to adapt and continue to promote travel? A crisis opens up new opportunities and provides the chance for companies to iterate, pivot and enhance their strategy.
Explore options as a domestic travel startup
For years, we’ve been sold the idea that going on holiday means going abroad. We’ve taken great pleasure in getting on a plane and jetting to the other side of the world. Now that we physically cannot do this, it’s a good time to stop and interrogate the why. Wherever you may be, your home country is full of exciting opportunities and adventure potential.
In fact, in 2019 Germany was the 8th most visited country in the world, and more foreign travellers came to Germany than went to Thailand…
It’s now worth actively marketing a country to its residents, helping them get excited about exploring where they live. A great example of this is the recent campaign from Deutsche Bahn, who used a lookalike algorithm to scan Getty Images with the aim of identifying and showcasing German locations that resembled iconic international landmarks. They saw a 24% increase in revenue as a result of this campaign.
“In 2019 Germany was the 8th most visited country in the world, and more foreign travellers came to Germany than went to Thailand.”
Move towards off-the-grid getaways
The Staycation Collection’s most popular pages are those with cabins, and many travellers are taking the phrase “get away from it all” to the next level.
After being confined to our homes, we’re ready to unplug and reconnect with nature. This makes sense, as the impact of the natural world on human brains is incredible: Spending just 15 minutes surrounded by trees decreases levels of stress hormone cortisol by up to 16%. Additionally, with our work lives crossing into our home lives more than ever we are seeking opportunities to really switch off our devices. (who else has been answering emails at 10pm because your desk is there, at your kitchen table?)
Travel startups need to come up with ways to stimulate off-grid tourism or travel to more remote and unpopulated regions, as well as develop ways to provide alternatives to resort-style destinations.
“Spending just 15 minutes surrounded by trees decreases levels of stress hormone cortisol by up to 16%.”
Be more human
The current time is uncertain for a lot of reasons, and this is something that every travel startup should actively accept and use to reconnect to their users.
Travellers have long loved the possibility of instant booking, and it was enough for companies to simply market their services to attract customers. Now, the sales cycle in B2C travel is longer as travellers seek reassurance and human connection from their booking or travel provider. They want to know what hygiene restrictions are in place, what the T&Cs of bookings are, and to ask for up-to-date travel conditions.
There needs to be an increase in resources on the human-facing side of travel startups, as well as honesty. If organisations don’t know the current restrictions – say so. Nurture that connection and make travellers feel looked after. This will ensure return business and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Increase last-minute options (and improve cancellation policies)
Earlier this year, founder and CEO of travel startup Omio, Naren Shaam, shared with TechCrunch that “advanced booking has come down drastically. But we see a spike in short term last-minute trips when people feel comfortable on the region.”
With travel restrictions changing overnight, it’s unsurprising that people are hesitant to book months in advance. For instance, in Germany, those in risk zones need to get negative COVID tests to travel to some other states. Some states are even requiring a negative test plus quarantine. And some states are considering banning tourist stays for those in risk areas.
We have to provide travellers with flexible booking and cancellation options so they feel comfortable and protected when trying to get away.
With crisis comes opportunity. It’s clear that the tourism industry and travel startups have been some of the hardest hit by the global pandemic. But there are plenty of ways to pivot products, explore new markets, redefine processes and identify strategic shifts.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together – let’s do ‘business as unusual’ with that in mind.