‘The experience of Covid was that a number of suppliers around the world withheld our clients’ money offering no refunds or in some cases approved the refunds but are taking an unacceptable time frame to process and pay these. So customers are going to be very wary of what is happening to their money, how their funds are going to be protected and how they can get them back in a timely manner.’
Felderhof referred to the TAANZ consumer bond as a level of protection. ‘However to continue offering surety to our customers we will need to work with our suppliers to ensure all payments are based on a bill back basis, which thankfully most of our suppliers already provide.
‘For those suppliers who still require or insist on pre-payment we are going to need to put another step into the process and warn our clients that their money will be going offshore prior to their travel and we will need to contractually seek our clients’ approval to move the liability from ourselves to the supplier.
‘That way if things go wrong we are not going to be stuck in the middle.’
Fedlerhof also emphasises that customers will be increasingly wary of restrictive cancellation and amendment fees. ‘I recommend that suppliers waver cancellation or amendment fee policies if the stay or service is cancelled due to Covid-19 at any time prior to that stay or service (being delivered).
‘In the interest of effective messaging, if this or a similar policy can be coordinated at a country level then that would be a powerful message for us to present to our customers.’
Consistent messaging all important
Having a consistent, clear and concise message to customers will be particularly important when travel starts up again, say Rick Felderhof, managing director of Our World.
Speaking on a South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) webinar last week, Felderhof pointed out that the ‘shape and form’ of the customer will be different in the post Covid world and that travellers will do anything possible to avoid being put in the same position they were in March this year.
‘There are new expectations from lessons they have learned – some first hand, some from families and friends and also from the media, with often inaccurate and misleading information.’
Felderhof says the window for organisations to get a clear message through to customers, before they move onto something else, is often limited.
‘The message needs to be consistent through all channels and I think this is particularly relevant for National Tourism Offices (NTOs). They need a message that all stakeholders can take through to their distribution, and from there to the customers.’
Failures can boost trusted distribution sector
The general success of the traditional travel distribution sector in handling customer needs through the Covid crisis augurs well for that side of the trade in the future, Our World’s Rick Felderhof said in a webinar last week.
Under a heading of ‘book with confidence’, Felderhof noted that ‘by and large’ customers in New Zealand had been well looked after by wholesalers and TAANZ member travel agents. ‘However that hasn’t been the case for everyone. Some suppliers have let their customers down and a number of self help resellers simply didn’t have the resources and the business models available to deal with all of the disrupted bookings. Customers who have experienced this service failure have probably talked to their families and friends and possibly the media and are changing how they book travel in the future. ‘
He says the need for surety is leading to a massive swing back to the traditional wholesaler and travel agent distribution model. ‘We have been able to say to our customers: “you know what, leave it with me and I will come back to you with all the information needed along with the best deals and booking conditions.”
‘Of we can also say “book and pay for your holiday with confidence and if, due to Covid-19, you are not able to travel we will refund your money in full within seven days, imagine how powerful that message would be.’