Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Leisure travel faces many roadblocks when it returns in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, but chief among them are two: Many people might not have the discretionary income for travel and consumer confidence with regard to the safety of travel might be low.

Travel advisors don't really have an influence on the first impediment, discretionary money. But there are steps they can take to help increase consumer confidence.

It's already a conversation ASTA is having, said Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy. The Society believes the industry as a whole will need to think about restoring confidence in travel and making people feel comfortable again.

"Our members don't want to be wards of the state until the end of time," he said, referring to the various federal relief for which agencies have been applying. "They want to get back to business, and we need people traveling to do that. That's almost harder than the financial part."

Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris said he believes the industry would benefit from a coalition that could communicate with the traveling public to share what the industry is doing and address misperceptions about the industry (for instance, that cruise ships are not sanitary).

Harris also believes the industry should look to become a more regulated environment with elements of consumer protection embedded. For instance, he said, some kind of trust accounting, like is required in California and a smattering of Canadian provinces.

"These are the types of things that need to happen to really strengthen our industry," he said.

In the meantime, Harris encouraged travel advisors to communicate clearly and often with their clients and tell them what the industry is doing to address traveler health and safety.

Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network, also encouraged client communication about industry sanitation efforts.

"As a cruise line or as a tour operator or as an airline announces the measures they're going to take, whether it's cleaning the plane after every flight, whether it's requiring masks, whatever it is, I really believe that consumers aren't following this as closely as most travel advisors," Block said.

He recommended sending a weekly or biweekly newsletter recapping the industry's various efforts. Include a three- to four-sentence recap of whatever the supplier announced and a link to the new policy. (Travel Weekly has the up-to-date pandemic-related news on its coronavirus page, including coverage of industry sanitation efforts.)

"It's a positive message that I don't think any consumer would find offensive, to be informed as to what's going on," Block said.

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