Will travel trade representation stay digital in the post-pandemic world?
We take a look at the pros and cons of digital travel trade representation in the post-pandemic world.
Here to stay?
It stands to reason that almost everyone, everywhere will be glad to see the back of the pandemic. But, as recurring conversations attest, there are certain things – periodically working from home, not taking the tube, and a generally less frenzied pace of life – that we’d be happy to see as the norm.
As the travel industry begins to squint at a more positive horizon, and we attempt to divine which way the ground will lay, questions remain, particularly in the digital habits we’ve picked up in the last year… Questions such as: are trade representation webinars here to stay, and how do we feel about them?
Well, like everything in life, there are pros and cons. From our experience hosting and participating in trade representation events like VISIT FLORIDA’s and TTG’s Florida Fest, TTG Top 50, Huddle, and the VISIT FLORIDA Quiz Night, we were able to reach more travel agents than ever before at less cost. Florida Fest’s attendance was 450 with many people watching once the event was finished, for example. Something we’re definitely chalking up as a pro.
In the same breath, we’ve actually been able to get key people in front of each other more regularly – even if it has been via video links. During a busy time, we have easily carried out two or three training sessions a week for travel agents all around the country, and this would be pretty hard to achieve in the face-to-face world.
True to the adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, we also found that remote events allowed for more thought and creativity to go into the programmes, for example – craft beer tastings at home, benefited by the expertise of the brewer on a different continent. Or even having a client do a trade-facing piece to camera before taking a plunge on a zipewire.
Away from Zoom calls and all things digital, we found opportunities for a more personal touch, such as care packages sent out at the beginning of the pandemic, or Florida-themed Christmas boxes (complete with the like of flamingo-shaped cookies) to maintain a constant presence and show our trade accounts that whilst they were having the worst of times, our client had not forgotten about them.
In the cons camp, we have another defining question posited by the pandemic – can there ever really be a substitute for face-to-face meetings? Handshakes and tactility in general have demonstrable benefits, rooted in our evolutionary biology, to our social interactions. Less scientific, but arguably as important, are the clinking of champagne glasses before some bad dancing at the midnight-end of an event. Neither, of course, are possible over Zoom.
So, are webinars here to stay? Ultimately, and to use a cliché bound to the last year, time will tell… What we envisage is a hybrid between the old system and the new. For clients, a greater reach with less dents in the budget is obviously appealing. But what about a travel industry without travel and all that that entails – meeting new people, experiencing new environments, learning about new cultures? It’s not very practical, nor is it very fun. Relationship building in the travel industry is key, and, as we all have discovered, chatting to people on Zoom just isn’t as natural and enjoyable as conversing in person.
It’s worth bearing in mind that everyone has a different sensitivity to resuming normal life, and for every person that will be cavalier coming out of lockdown, there will be someone reticent. A skilled trade rep will be able to read the situation unique to that relationship and determine the best option.
Worldwide, the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt with differing severity. Whilst at home, the government’s strategies to allow travel to resume have been as sure as quicksand. At the time of writing, we’re waiting on a green light for a traffic light and vaccination passport system.
So, it looks like there’s still a little wait yet before we resume a truly international network of in-person travel trade meetings, but the journey’s end is getting closer every day.