Industry experts shared technological innovations and their learnings from the COVID-19 crisis at the first Travel Forward ONLINE Conference, the leading travel technology event, co-located with WTM London.
Richard Gayle, Event Manager for Travel Forward, introduced the online conference, saying:
“The scale of disruption to global travel has put enormous pressure on existing ways of doing business.
“But as lockdown measures begin to relax globally, the new rules of travel are being written – country by country, territory by territory.
“For the time being, we are set for a continued period of uncertainty.
“Travel Forward will bring leaders and industry veterans together from across the spectrum to share their thinking, ideas and plans, and to provide a platform for open discussion, with questions from our online audience.”
Keynote Opening Address
Paul Charles, CEO & Founder, PC Agency
Quash Quarantine campaigner urges travel industry to lobby together
The spokesman for the successful Quash Quarantine campaign says the travel industry needs a stronger lobbying voice to make its case to government.
Speaking at the first Travel Forward ONLINE Conference – a series of online mini-conferences, Paul Charles, Chief Executive and Founder of The PC Agency, said travel industry associations either did not understand the magnitude of the problem of quarantine or they were focused on other issues, such as refunds.
“We need a united front,” he said.
“The travel sector traditionally has not united in a great way; you’ve had these different sectors within the travel sector itself, be it airlines, airports or travel agents. You need a cross-genre group and that will be important in the future.”
The Quash Quarantine campaign brought together 500 travel and hospitality firms to show politicians, the media and the public how quarantine measures would damage the economy.
Quarantine rules for many destinations were dropped after just four weeks.
Charles said the campaign also revealed how the UK government has very narrow view of the travel industry.
“It’s not just airports and airlines; a lot of the travel sector is dominated by small travel agents and small tour operators. These businesses are really the backbone of the travel sector in the UK,” he said.
He hopes the government will learn from the first wave of coronavirus about the importance of consulting with the industry.
“One problem in the UK is, seemingly, the lack of willingness to consult. Some people may have been spoken to but not the whole travel sector. Measures have been introduced without that consultation,” he said.
“I hope the government will learn from that and in future consult with people before introducing things. The consultation process has to get much better.”
Charles was confident that the pandemic will not “kill off” the desire to explore but patterns of travel will change.
“We may reduce the amount of travelling we do and make it more high quality,” he said.
“We might spend more when we go on those trips and a lot of tourism boards are looking at how to attract higher-spending consumers in the future, but perhaps with less volume.
“Tourism has got a strong opportunity in the next few years because of the ability re-set and find out what wasn’t working pre-COVID, such as overtourism, and be more sustainable.”
City breaks are likely to struggle in the short-term as travellers avoid busy urban areas, while cruising looks set to bounce back in 2021, he added.
Currently, those offering villa breaks, wellness and wilderness holidays and domestic trips are seeing more bookings.
Those in the over-60s market are less likely to travel overseas until a vaccine is found, while those aged 18 to 30 will drive the recovery – even though many have been hit by job losses.
The pandemic is also driving more innovation in digital technology, so contactless travel will become more widespread as the industry minimises human-to-human contact.
Paying for travel: the customer impact during and post the Covid-19 experience
Brian Quarrie | Mikko Turtiainen | Peter Brennan | Paulo Salvador | Shiv Bhatt
Innovations must smooth the way for better payments
The travel industry must invest in innovations to solve the problems of payments, refunds and vouchers in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, according to experts at the first Travel Forward ONLINE Conference.
They were speaking during the session called ‘Paying for travel: the customer impact during and post the COVID-19 experience’.
Moderator Brian Quarrie, Global Head of Sales at PayTabs, said consumers had seen a range of responses from travel companies when holidays and flights were cancelled during the pandemic – some had a “very good experience” while others reported “sharp practices”.
Mikko Turtiainen, Global Sales Market Management Vice President at Finnair, said his airline cancelled 95% of its flights after the lockdown at the end of March – resulting in 300,000 refund requests within three months, equivalent to what it would usually get in three years.
About 160,000 have been processed, with passengers waiting about eight weeks on average for a refund. Most customers opted for refunds instead of vouchers or rebooking.
“We are thinking about how we can do this in better way,” he said.
“We do see innovation and we have put a lot of effort into robotics, to get the simplest refunds processed directly through robotics, not requiring manual processes.”
The airline has seen its Net Promotor Score rise over the past month, suggesting customers approve of its refund procedures.
Peter Brennan, Chief Executive of tour operator Holiday World, also said refunds were important to keep loyal customers happy, as 60-70% of his business comes from repeat clients. He ensured that everyone was refunded in full rather than being offered credit notes.
Another challenge for agents and operators was the Package Travel Regulations, which state refunds must be given within 14 days, although airlines were taking longer to pass the money back.
Shiv Bhatt, Head of Merchant and Acquirer Solutions at Visa, said there has been an “overwhelming increase” in the number of disputes as consumers are worried about the validity of vouchers and whether travel companies can remain in business.
However, he said vouchers are useful for firms to maintain their liquidity and offer clients an alternative to refunds.
Bhatt also pointed out the complexity of consumer rights with vouchers and said innovation to link a voucher to the original credit card would help make the process smoother.
Paulo Salvador, Managing Director of Inn&Out Performance, said online travel agencies had to shift quickly in lockdown, from being “booking machines” to “cancellation machines”.
“There is a need for regulation because our industry is very fragmented, especially with hotels,” he said.
“There is a good opportunity for us to think about the future and to see how we can invest in our processes and some sort of organised method of payments in order to respond more quickly to the businesses’ need of keeping cashflow. How can we centralise the process?”
He warned that the issue of vouchers will be topical again in six months’ time when customers start to redeem them. Airlines need to ensure they can offer seats to those who want to fly, or the option of credit back on payment cards.
The panellists agreed there needs to be more automation of payments, to make refunds easier and quicker, and greater use of contactless technology during travel.
However, they acknowledged the challenges, such as the complexity of travel arrangements, different currencies, supplier policies and staff being on furlough.
Industry Interview: with Chiara Quaia, Mastercard
Lee Hayhurst | Chiara Quaia
Mastercard: COVID-19 crisis will accelerate use of virtual cards
The COVID-19 crisis means more travel agents will use virtual cards because they offer security and ease of doing business, a Travel Forward ONLINE conference heard.
Chiara Quaia, VP travel market development at Mastercard, said virtual cards look set to be the dominant form of payment in travel eventually – and COVID-19 is accelerating this trend.
She said the virtual card option enables agents to be the merchant of record, so they can package up holidays with different suppliers and present one invoice to customers – and it is easier to reconcile payments.
Virtual cards also offer security for the suppliers who can ensure they get paid, especially during this time of widespread cancellations, increased risks and economic turmoil.
Speaking to Lee Hayhurst, Executive Editor of Travolution, she said virtual cards are now being used by agents around the world. The model started in Europe but is now growing quickly in the US, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
To encourage more uptake, Mastercard is launching lower pricing tiers this week for its wholesale travel programme for travel intermediaries and travel suppliers.
Furthermore, agents can access the chargeback scheme if they are finding it difficult to get a refund or voucher from a supplier.
Quaia said consumer behaviour is the “engine of evolution” which is driving this trend – and urged airlines to embrace it.
Hayhurst highlighted complaints by Ryanair about online travel agencies using virtual cards, as the low-cost carrier urges travellers to book direct.
Quaia said Ryanair and other carriers should “welcome the sales driven by travel agencies” as they are sales that the airlines would otherwise not have.
“Airlines always want a direct strategy but agents offer more distribution,” she explained.
Mastercard is also helping new ventures in the payments and foreign exchange sector, supporting innovative ideas with its start-up programme.
“There is an urgent call to action for all players to emerge stronger,” said Quaia.
“We need to set solid foundations for a more agile industry and a fresh look at the B2B cash flow.”
About World Travel Market
World Travel Market (WTM) Portfolio comprises nine leading travel events across four continents, generating more than $7.5 billion of industry deals. The events are:
Travel Forward London is the leading travel technology event, co-located with WTM London. Travel Forward is renowned for showcasing the next-generation technologies for the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. Over 19,000 travel officials and 150+ innovative solution providers attend for 3 days of cutting-edge insights, open debate and unrivalled networking opportunities. The combination of a 2-day conference, interactive exhibition and Startup showcase makes Travel Forward truly unique. http://travelforward.wtm.com/
Next event: Monday 2nd to Wednesday 4th November 2020 – London #NeverStandStill
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Natalia Hartmann – WTM Portfolio Press & PR
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