Research Captures the Impact of COVID-19 on Travel Distribution Partners

NEW YORK—In partnership with MMGY Myriad, international travel marketing alliance Travel Consul released new data around COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry and its current needs. The survey was conducted with more than 900 travel executives globally (tour operators and agency owners) and explores what travel brands need to quickly recover, how customers are reacting, and current marketing activity and business model adjustments in the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape.

Here are a few highlights of the results:

How destinations can support distribution partners in recovery
When asked how destination organizations (DMOs) can best help travel advisors and tour operators in recovery, the number-one answer was clearly “introducing health and safety certificates for advisors to feel sure the destinations are safe to send their customers.” Two out of three participants requested help from the destinations. The next top three answers included marketing campaigns, presenting useful and timely data, and industry and media updates.

Clients are still waiting to decide where to travel next
More than 40% of clients who are rebooking or showing some interest in traveling said that they were planning to go to the destination where they had originally booked—although the largest percentage (46%) are at a halt, waiting to see how the situation evolves before making their decision. Amongst U.S. respondents, 51% said their clients were looking to the destination they originally booked, while 38% said their clients were waiting to decide.

Marketing efforts for recovery are focused on social media
In regards to marketing activities during recovery, social media was clearly the winner with two out of every three respondents claiming that social marketing was their main concept. That number is even higher among U.S. respondents, with 75% saying they would focus on social media. Digital and co-op campaigns respectively came in second and third.

Business implications of COVID-19
Overall, distribution partners expect a 73% decrease in business volume in Q3 2020 and a 60% decrease in Q4 2020. Two-thirds of respondents anticipate being able to sustain their businesses for six months without government financial support. U.S. respondents feel less financially secure than the global average. One in three (33%) said they could only sustain their business without government assistance for one to three months, and 28% said four to six months.

Actions implemented during the crisis
Approximately 41% of global respondents reported designing new products and adjusting the business model as the main measures adopted during the pandemic. Customer service improvement and training programs ranked second.

Top communication methods used with clients
Email leads are the preferred form of communication for tour operators and agency owners that are interacting with clients during the COVID-19 emergency. Interestingly, the traditional use of the telephone was the second most utilized channel. Although gaining popularity, video conferences and live chat make up less than 17% of communications methods.

Tourism associations serve as primary data sources
Concerning the top three data sources that are used for information during the COVID-19 crisis, tour operators and travel agency associations clearly lead the pack (global average of 69%). This was followed by destination tourist offices, trade media, their own national government and industry friends.

How COVID-19 is changing the rules in 2020 and beyond
When asked how the role of travel distribution partners will change going forward in order to adapt to these new circumstances, 70% of the respondents believe that modifying cancellation policies or terms and conditions will be among their main undertakings. Additional strong responses were “expand customer communication channels,” “diversify/change your product and destination offerings,” and “creating new partnerships with new buyers and suppliers.”

Loyalty to destinations and hotels and resorts is being reconsidered
Almost 50% of respondents said that they were extremely likely to consider hotels and resorts they had never sold before. Additionally, another 37% said that it was somewhat likely they would consider other options. U.S. respondents answered similarly to their global counterparts.