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An industry comes back to life: How the tourism industry is preparing for the ‘new normal’ in travel

Tourists at the beach in Egremni (Lefkada)

The last few months have been a real turning point for the industry. Never before has the world stood still, and along with it the possibilities for travel. In retrospect, the plight of the holidaymakers who were stranded in Spain under a volcanic ash cloud now seems trivial compared with the impact of recent times. While shutting down tourism and aviation at the start of the outbreak was a logistical tour de force, the effort needed now to restart these industries is much greater. In addition to the obvious tasks of organising staff and logistics, the main goal is to win back holidaymakers. A lot of people still recall the images of stranded travellers back in March – many of whom are still waiting on a refund for forfeited flights and package tours. However, with no bookings in sight companies lack the cash flow to make payments – very much a vicious circle.

Hence the industry is looking at new ways to motivate hesitant holidaymakers to book trips. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr for instance recently promised customers that his airline would fly any travellers back home who had been denied entry to their holiday destination because of the coronavirus. Other industry players quickly followed suit. DER Touristik, the German-based tour operator, also gave a virtually cast-iron pledge to bring its customers safely home – regardless of the circumstances. Other countries have put forward similar plans. Tourism professionals in charge of major travel destinations solemnly swear they will do everything to ensure visitors can enjoy a pleasant stay and will take care of them if a serious situation arises due to the coronavirus. Thus the tourism minister of Cyprus has announced that a local four-star hotel is being made available for quarantine purposes – along with free catering and wi-fi. It even features an event programme that can be watched from visitors’ balconies. Hoteliers in Turkey have come up with similar ideas. However, they are not much use to anyone arriving two weeks late for work after being quarantined.

The main difficulty in planning a tour is the myriad different requirements that apply to travel between individual countries, a maze for tour operators – be they travel agencies or online portals. What is more, the rules can change at any time. Reacting to this situation, A3M has developed a destination manager application whose purpose is to spare advisors and customers this major headache. Tour operators such as FTI are already using it at their call centres – as is the travel portal ’ab-in-den-Urlaub’. Travel agency chains are also interested in this tourism management tool – among them BEST Reisen, the first customer in this market to do so.

As the economy comes back to life the hotel trade faces big challenges. For weeks it has been working on hygiene concepts to ensure it can operate efficiently. Guests need to be able to feel that the risk of infection is minimal. Measures include a breakfast service for the guests’ rooms, perspex screens at the reception and the removal of magazines and other objects that can cause transmission when handled. Three hotels in Munich are operating a robot butler called Jeeves, designed by the Munich-based company Robotise, which brings small orders to rooms. The holiday apartment market is among those experiencing an upturn – one where social distancing is often part and parcel of the concept. Nevertheless, more and more owners are opting to give visitors the keys without personal contact, by placing them in a combination safe for example. Providers are even working on a seal of approval for this service.

In these times of Covid-19 what makes life even more difficult for hotels is that individual countries and regions have imposed different guidelines. In the Alps the variation in rules between Bavaria and Austria is an obvious example. Whereas in Austria hotels are re-opening their pool and spa areas, in Bavaria the corresponding restrictions have yet to be eased. Hotel owners in Germany see themselves at a disadvantage and are increasingly putting pressure on lawmakers. Thus the rules are likely to change again.

One thing is clear – holidays in the summer of 2020 will be different to any other year. Over the coming weeks conditions will be too unpredictable to claim that business is returning to normal again. Companies will have to adapt to the ’new normal’, as will visitors. All the signs point to an unprecedented wave of last-minute bookings.

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