The start of a recovery in travel in Europe could be seen within two quarters, according to OTA trip.com.
Speaking at last week’s Travolution Summit, Schubert Lou, chief operating officer of the Ctrip-owned agency, said there was hope that the second wave of the coronavirus will be shorter than the first.
And he said with signs that a vaccine might be available early in 2021 travel is expected to bounce back, although he said firms will have to respond to changing customer demands.
“Firstly, I think there’s definitely hope we’re going to have some kind of vaccine available in the next two quarters or so,” Lou said.
“So, hopefully by the end of Q1 people will be able to travel to different places of the world. That’s the demand change.
“Second, many of the countries that have actually gone through the second wave came back out in a shorter window of time. I think that’s very encouraging.
“We know the disease and much better. We know how to kind of combat it in certain ways. So actually, we’re seeing a shortened cycle, which is encouraging also.”
Lou added it was also imperative that the travel sector works with governments to support the return pointing to scheme in Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
“They have really tried to help the industry in many ways. We are hoping we can time government incentive with our own flexibility and programming to really help business boom.
“We’ve seen that successfully done in Japan with something called Go To Travel. We’re seeing a new programme launching in Singapore and Thailand’s also in active conversation about that.
“I think by having the right timing, with our own flexibility and some support from government this will turn us around fairly quickly.”
Lou said COVID-19 has not altered trip.com’s plans for growth in the UK and Europe, but that all travel firms must listen more to their customers to make sure they are meeting new demands.
“Now we need to listen to our customers a lot more. In the past [the industry] has been fairly complacent. We have offered the same product year over year.
“What the industry needs to start doing is to listen to our customers and react to the changing of demand.
“Just look at one data point: search, the type of terms they’re searching is quite different, pre versus post-COVID.
“What people are looking for because of the restrictions that are currently happening around each one of us, is actually changing behaviour.
“By understanding and talking to the customer and looking at what they’re typing in actually provides a tremendous amount of information on how we should be changing our platform.
“One of the things that we did was create an international travel guide, telling people where you can go at any given time. We call it the ‘green map’.
“That is designed to follow user demands. That’s the information they actually need, and if you can provide that you will be the platform they’re going to rely on and trust and hopefully then book on.”
Lou said trip.com’s experience of its markets in China and southeast Asia is that recovery is led by domestic travel and that people will look for longer trips but book much closer to departure date.
“Staycation has been booming for the last three or four months and then there’s the hotel plus excursion in combination. That’s definitely one trend.
“The other is the booking window is changing. In the past, 40% of bookings used to be over 30 days away as people booked and planned their holidays in advance of their summer trips.
“But now 50% of all bookings are within a couple of days. So that’s another behavioural change we’re seeing.
“Thirdly, and it depends on which country you are in, the stays are tending be longer, partly because they can work from home or work from a different location.
“That allows them to go with long stays. So those are the trends you’re seeing: staycation and more domestic demand, shorter booking windows, plus longer stays.”
Lou said trip.com is trying to incentivise earlier bookings with its trip.com Live programme that of flexible, fully refundable and cancellable bookings with up to 60% off.
“We’re trying to use a different types of packaging with our suppliers and offer some product that’s never been seen before.
That’s been selling really well and there are some encouraging numbers of based on that programme.
“We are seeing people are willing to commit the minute they find flexibility that’s built in and the industry is experimenting with this.
“Partly it’s through the insurance that’s available so you can cancel at any time. Partly its airlines you offering year-long travel packages, where you can travel anytime in the next 365 days.
“Some of the flexibility we’re seeing in hotels and flights are quite encouraging is getting a lot of buzz and quite a bit of demand as well.”