The current landscape for the UK travel industry is arguably bleaker than at any point since the pandemic first hit. Planes are grounded, ships are moored up and coaches are confined to the garage. Campsites are closed and the only people likely to see the inside of a hotel are those in quarantine. For businesses operating within the sector, maintaining relations with customers and stakeholders is one of the many challenges they are currently facing so the importance of an experienced Travel PR team cannot be understated.
No-one in the UK is currently allowed to travel at all, including abroad, unless there is a legally permitted reason to do so. The government advice is very stark: “It is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes.”
Some travel brands have been trying to sugar coat the situation and insist that bookings are up for the summer. Barely a week goes by without a Travel PR firm issuing a press release that customers are returning. We know from our clients that, in reality, those statistics are coming from a very low base.
There is no doubt that the pent-up demand to get away to sunnier climes is huge. As soon as there is some certainty and clarity, bookings for foreign holidays will go through the roof and operators will be once again vying for share against their competitors.
There are plenty of reasons for longer term optimism. Covid vaccines are being jabbed into British arms at a furious rate. Last Saturday there were 1000 people a minute getting a shot. It is inevitable that vaccine passports, improved sanitation and thorough testing programmes will eventually make travel possible again, even if we are still wearing masks and avoiding close contact.
However, the months of disruption have taken their toll and eroded consumer faith in travel brands. There has been a great deal of frustration over slow refunds and poor customer service. Airlines in particular have not done themselves any favours, holding on to refunds and refusing to hand back cash.
It is perhaps no surprise that when PHA sent out a survey this week, 85 per cent of respondents said their confidence in the travel sector declined during the pandemic. Almost 90 per cent said they were now unlikely to book with an unknown travel firm. Two thirds said that security of a holiday is now more important than affordability.
Travel companies are going to have to work very hard to stand out from the crowd and to win back consumer trust. Over the next few months it will be more vital than ever to communicate with customers through effective travel PR, backed up by innovative and clear strategic thinking.
Those travel companies which will survive and thrive are those that have changed for the better – and let people know about it.
At The PHA Group we have been working with numerous travel clients throughout the pandemic – telling their stories and maintaining their profiles and reputations.
We worked closely with cruise ship company Fred. Olsen when coronavirus first impacted the industry. They wanted to maintain their hard-earned reputation as a caring, family-run business. We helped them to communicate what they were doing to get everyone home safely and to explain what their future plans were. We have since collaborated with them on other communications projects as they plan their return to the water as soon as possible. You can read more about our campaign here.
Another of our clients is TravelUp, the leading travel agent. Their business had to rapidly transform overnight when coronavirus devastated the industry. We worked with them across both Public Relations and Public Affairs as they transformed their business to cope with the huge demand for refunds – whilst campaigning to the Civil Aviation Authority, Minister and MPs for changes in how cancelled air fares are returned. You can read more about the work we did with TravelUp here.
We are currently representing a consortium of UK airlines who feel their businesses have been negatively impacted by Brexit. They need to tell their story and implore the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport for their help and intervention.
The coming months are a pivotal time for brands operating across the industry and rebuilding consumer trust must be the number one priority. An effective travel PR campaign can help improve relations with customers, restore faith in a brand and communicate the positive steps that have been taken following what has been one of the most challenging years on record.
If you would be interested in discussing how we could help your travel brand rebuild trust amongst the public, get in touch with our award-winning team today to discuss how we could support you.