Célia Pronto, managing director of leading members-only, global home swapping platform Love Home Swap, explains how the travel sector can win back much-needed business after the crisis of COVID-19
As lockdown restrictions start to ease and travel bookings make a cautious return, there is definite cause for positivity within the sector after, to put it lightly, a tsunami of uncertainty and setbacks.
Knowing that consumers are looking to travel again, and with borders opening up, it is time for the travel sector to get back to what it does best.
Brits are certainly ready to ‘save the summer’. At Love Home Swap we are already seeing the number of home swaps agreed now tracking at around 80% of pre-Covid levels, and according to our recent survey, nearly 40% of respondents are planning a holiday this year.
However, now is also the time to listen to consumers and adapt accordingly, because priorities have changed, and despite the initial flurry of swaps being agreed, we have uncovered a significant amount of uncertainty and concern, even amongst previously confident travellers.
According to our recent survey, for many, travel simply isn’t on the agenda for the foreseeable future – one in five Brits said they had no plans to travel, with one in 10 revealing they would only travel once there is a vaccine.
For those looking to book their next holiday, their key priorities have also changed, with ‘hygiene’ coming out as their number one concern, followed by ‘personal safety’ and ‘security’ – key holiday needs that pipped ‘weather’ and ‘location’ to the post.
As ever, it isn’t one size fits all and as we dug a little deeper, we found a distinct generational divide in behaviour.
The results show that older generations are less likely to travel than their younger counterparts, and are far more anxious about the prospect of travel in general.
Almost a fifth of Millennials and Gen Z respondents said they feel very positive about travelling, whereas over 45% of baby boomers felt very anxious or didn’t want to go abroad at all.
Does that mean that the recovery for the travel sector lies with the younger generation, or do we need to tackle these older generational concerns?
The answer is both. Based on our data, the concern for consumers is for their own personal safety and health, which becomes more prevalent the older they get.
Although it might be tempting to concentrate efforts on encouraging the younger, less cautious consumers to travel, they are facing their own set of challenges which will impact long-term behaviour.
The general sentiment from across the world’s financial markets suggest that economies are yet to feel the full force of COVID-19, which is a concern for the industry itself, not least due to the impact on the general consumer.
Some Brits are going to have less money to spend on travel, in particular Millennials and Gen Z. Our research, which echoes many of the studies and data already out there, shows over a quarter have less money to spend on travel following the pandemic.
Millennials and Gen Z may be the driving force behind this surge in bookings across the sector, but for a sustained recovery the older, arguably more affluent traveller, will have to be attracted back.
The financial impact will likely affect all age groups to some extent, so consumers in general will be looking for more affordable and accessible options to fulfil their desire to travel over the next few months.
If we are able to understand these concerns and impacts, it will better help the industry work together to foster trust and demonstrate added value.
Trust has always been a huge factor in the travel sector and we know that remains the case.
Our survey revealed that trust in and reputation of a travel provider is a key consideration for those looking at their next holiday, with over 70% saying it was important or very important to them.
Creating trust and sense of goodwill between travel providers and consumers, especially in these times, will stand the sector not just in good stead for this year, but for many years to come.
At Love Home Swap we spent the lockdown reviewing and improving our platform, as well as listening to our customers and the wider consumer.
Our business model already lends itself to being one of the more affordable travel options – in 2019, we estimated that Love Home Swappers’ saved an average total of £6.5 million by using our platform for their holidays.
We have an incredibly engaged community, with a high degree of trust among our members due to the intimate nature of home swapping – something we protect and foster as much as we can.
To further support this, we have also provided all members with the latest and best guidance on cleanliness and hygiene, as well as completing several other updates to the platform during lockdown to improve the member experience.
Returning confidence and trust to consumers in this new and uncertain landscape will be a challenge for all of us.
However, if the last few months has taught us anything, it is that listening to customers and being agile will be the key to navigating these unchartered waters, and building trust and confidence.