We are the caretakers of the hopes and dreams that borders will open up, that air will be safe to breathe, that once again we will be able to hug and shake hands our way to the far corners of the planet.
Our clients need to do this, because isolation is not an option.
Incarceration, even if voluntary, is still incarceration.
Here we sit, perhaps midway through this terrible ordeal, perhaps not even that far along. We are dealing with clients, many of whom have become friends. They trust us, and we have to know them well enough to have the courage to say, "No, not now, perhaps later."
Our role has grown more complex. We need to explain the new travel realities. We will increasingly be the middlemen in the eye of the storm, the bearers of news about distancing, dining restrictions and hotels reimagined.
Over my years writing about the myriad things truly professional travel consultants have to know and do, the burdens seem inconsistent with our salaries. And now, let's add one more burden, a major one: We have to explain to those who have long-delayed the realization of their dreams that they may have to wait a bit longer and that when they do travel, there will likely be a new set of rules in place.
So what will we tell them about how the near future may look?
This is some of what we may need to share with our clients:
To succeed going forward, suppliers will need to design a new triangular approach to business. The three components are:
- Trusted and certifiable cleanliness standards in all aspects of the vacation experience.
- Privatized luxury in a self-contained setting. Travelers will be increasingly seeking a state of "splendid isolation."
- An avoidance of parts of the world that are "over-touristed" in favor of secondary destinations that have largely been undiscovered. "We were able to be by ourselves with no crowds" will become the new bragging rights. We'll need to know where that's possible.
A growing number of potential travelers will stay home and travel virtually as technology and artificial intelligence improve to the point that sight, sound and smell are all part of a virtual walk practically anywhere Google can map.
Hotels will need to dramatically increase the percentage of in-house bookings -- at the expense of OTAs. They will do this by eliminating some services, such as the check-in desk or sit-down restaurants, while making frequent-guest amenities exclusive to those who book direct.
Airlines will not be able to maintain profitability while eliminating, for the sake of social distancing, approximately one-third of their seats from inventory. New cleanliness guidelines and the hiring of additional staff to thoroughly clean each aircraft at the end of every segment will require significant price increases. Direct flights will begin to disappear, with a growing percentage of travelers required to take connections.
Industry marketing professionals will be tasked with convincing the public that their brand is more dedicated to maintaining a germ-free environment than others. This is new territory, and some critical mistakes will likely be made.
Escorted tour companies will face some of the most serious challenges going forward, as 45-passenger tour buses currently provide less space per guest than virtually any other form of travel.
And that is just what we might be dealing with the first week that overseas travel finally reopens.
Get some rest in the next several weeks.