The online retailer’s decision to take holidays off sale for most of 2021, before offering free covid tests from September makes it the consumer champion in a time when trust and loyalty will central to future success.
While the UK travel industry collectively complained, fought against and attempted to navigate, manage and trade during the complex and ever-changing overseas travel traffic light system, onthebeach.com took a different approach and stopped selling holidays.
The online travel agent has just started selling holidays again this month, and it has even put aside £1 million to pay for customer Covid tests for bookings made in September.
Could this strategy make OTB the winner in the post-pandemic world? It certainly has won the PR battle as a company prepared to put its customers first.
Previous blogs have questioned the UK travel industry’s decision to fight the Government’s traffic light system and trading restrictions, when a better strategy may have been to work with the UK Government for greater and more tailored support for the industry’s businesses and staff.
On the Beach research found 53% of its respondents now feel confident about booking a holiday for the remainder of 2021, contrasting a July survey which found 34% would consider booking a holiday this year.
In January, it reported “very weak” forward bookings amid lockdown and winter flying restrictions and stopped selling holidays departing before May 1. When May came around, the introduction of the traffic lights system saw OTB extended its sales ban until September departures.
This strategy put On the Beach on the side of the customer, not selling holidays that were more than likely to be rescheduled at best and cancelled at worst. It also meant it did not have to keep up to date with the changing requirements of the traffic lights system and at the coal face of passing that information on to the often confused and frustrated customers.
Those companies that continued to trade and attempted to generate revenue may – in the long term – have done damage to their brand, as they were the bearers of bad news to the customer. While the operating costs of trading for little revenue means profits for the period would be low at best. Whereas, On the Beach – I assume – reduced both its operational and marketing costs during a time when the revenue generated would have very low, compared to previous summers.
It has allowed On the Beach come back with a bang in September and not only pay for customers’ pre- and post-holiday covid tests, but organise them too. The high costs and the organisational complexities of these tests were in the news all summer and one of the key barriers to stopping many people – especially cash-strapped families – from taking an overseas holiday.
On the Beach’s own research found this, with 32% of people saying the cost of PCR tests is one of the main reasons they had not booked a holiday for 2021, second only to concerns that the holiday would not go ahead as planned.
A quarter of people not planning holidays this year said free Covid-19 tests would make them more likely to book for 2021.
CEO Simon Cooper described the offer as “industry-leading” in removing “the financial burden of PCR testing for holidaymakers as they get to grips with the new normal of holidaying.
“The financial and administrative implications of PCR testing are still a barrier for many to booking a holiday abroad.”
Unfortunately, there has been little innovation in the travel industry during the pandemic. By taking holidays off sale for most of the year and offering free covid tests, OTB has set itself up as a consumer champion in an industry which has spent too long arguing against restrictions it was never going to get changed.