Virtuoso speakers propose pathways to restore confidence, restart travel

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Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch introduces World Travel and Tourism Council president and CEO Gloria Guevara during Virtuoso Travel Week 2020, which was held virtually.
Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch introduces World Travel and Tourism Council president and CEO Gloria Guevara during Virtuoso Travel Week 2020, which was held virtually.

Consistency, transparency, flexibility and price integrity will be key to travel's comeback from the coronavirus crisis.
That was the message from suppliers and agency executives during Virtuoso Travel Week, which this year was held virtually for the first time.

Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch, in conversation with World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) CEO Gloria Guevara, said traveler confidence will need to be restored to help the industry recover.

"It's not just a virus issue," he said. "It's also an issue of travelers losing confidence [and feeling] they're going to be stranded, that they're going to be quarantined, that things are going to happen."

Guevara said the WTTC is applying four principles to the industry's recovery that need to be applied consistently by governments around the world. 

First, a coordinated approach is necessary for opening borders. Second, countries need to institute consistent safety protocols, in contrast to the post-9/11 period when varying airport security procedures hindered travel's recovery. Third is increased testing, including testing throughout a traveler's journey, and contact tracing. Finally, the WTTC is calling for governments to support the travel and tourism industry, which has lost more than 100 million jobs, as soon as possible.

"Flexibility is the key in the new world of travel," Abercrombie & Kent founder and co-chairman Geoffrey Kent said during a Zoom panel for media.

His company, for instance, has adapted the type of journeys it offers to guests, boosting inventory in the U.S. and including more options for outdoor adventures in open spaces as well as more customization and privacy.

Moderator Albert Herrera, Virtuoso's senior vice president of partnerships, and Ben Trodd, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Four Seasons, during a panel at Virtuoso Travel Week 2020.
Moderator Albert Herrera, Virtuoso's senior vice president of partnerships, and Ben Trodd, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Four Seasons, during a panel at Virtuoso Travel Week 2020.

Suppliers will need to communicate to advisors and guests with full transparency about how travel experiences may have changed, said Ben Trodd, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

After hearing from partners that they needed enhanced, detailed information, such as which restaurants would be open at which properties and what the new spa experience will be like, Four Seasons created a "welcome back" portal with that content.

"We have to just be very, very clear about how the guests will operate within our environment, and frankly how our employees will, as well," Trodd said.

Haisley Smith, vice president of marketing and development at Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala., said "transparency comes first" in the new environment between agencies and suppliers.

"We are going to need to know more and understand more about our suppliers' business practices, about their financial security, about the down-line suppliers that they're working with, not to mention an in-depth understanding of terms and conditions," she said. "I think only with transparency can we develop trust to move forward with really strategic partnerships."

Smith said advisors will also need to coach clients on being flexible, as changes are likely despite the amount of planning that will go into their trips.

Pricing integrity is also an important piece to travel's comeback. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, said during the media Zoom call that her company will not be significantly changing nor lowering prices.

"We're a luxury brand, and we are not willing to hurt our long-term strategy about what we deliver for guest experience," she said.

Both Kent and Philippe Zuber, COO and incoming CEO of Kerzner International, which operates One&Only and Atlantis hotels, agreed.

"In fact," Zuber said, "we have a real duty to keep the pricing and not compromise on that." 

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