Last Minute Always

Last Minute Always

Think of anything positive Covid has done to the tourism industry?

Maybe the ridiculously long prepay period for a tourism product will now shrink to something fairer. Maybe there will even be more tourism products, like your individually booked hotel room, that you only pay for after you’ve used it.

Here’s why I think this might happen:

Predicting the future is a key to successful product development in most industries, especially tourism.  What’s so different about our industry is that we have a known set of products; we’re not like the apparel or music industries where new products are brought to market all the time.

I think I probably developed several of the last unknown tourist destinations in Africa in the 1980s and today there is, frankly, nothing new out there.  We’re confined to tweaking the experience but the experience won’t have a newfound country or jungle or beachfront.

In fact because of that we’re expected to function more successfully as experts; we’re allowed fewer mistakes because our panoply of products doesn’t change. There are no new destinations.

Our expertise won’t be judged by a discovery of something truly new and exciting like a Sketcher that then suddenly governs the attire of a Broadway opening and soon thereafter fills the shelves of Wall-Mart in time for middle school openings.  We can’t find a new island, launch it successfully then become the trend-maker.  Cruise companies were the last to do that, and more than a quarter century ago.

We’re expected to be, and should be, masters of the known.  And that’s a real pain.  Because the expectation extends beyond ‘where’s the best place in the world to rock climb’ to ‘will there be any nearby earthquakes’ and ‘does TravelGuard cover a faulty crampon?’

One of my pet peeves is client expectations that we can perfectly predict the weather.  Now given Covid, customers are demanding we tell them when Covid will cease being an obstacle to traveling.

I have been 100% wrong in my predictions regarding travel vis-a-vis Covid internationally.  Every trip since March, 2019, I have honestly but incorrectly predicted would be viable before it could be, because of Covid.  As a result I quickly learned to stop predicting.

We continue to postpone trips and even offer new ones, but in ways that clearly caution the client that we’re doing so irrespective of the real threat from Covid.  On the face of it this is a crazy lack of professionalism… unless the terms of our products change.

We have to delimit our expertise:

Most larger inclusive vacation packages require prepayment well before they’re used. But we’re rapidly approaching a situation where the final payment will be only a few weeks before departure – not months – and I would not be surprised if one of the legacies of this disaster is that at least some of travel begins to be treated like most every other consumer product: you pay after you get it.

Those who aggressively effect this strategy now will be big winners when Covid is over.  And when Covid is over it will be a real struggle for the stragglers that are hanging onto their old terms to catch up.  If this does manifest, it becomes a transformative way to dominate certain markets, and those who waited until the last moment will be suspect for not embracing it.

Every BnB’s success seems somehow linked to the giants of the industry like the airlines, and even vendors of inclusive vacation packages often look to airlines before adjusting their own booking terms.

Airlines’ terms have definitely moved in this transformative direction, but they’re still a long way from billing after use.

Change fees for tickets have all but been eliminated. Cancellations carry no fees, either (unless it’s a no-show) although the rebooking window of the changed or cancelled ticket has been reduced.

So the right path might be a moderate one, where final payment is much closer to departure or where  – like the airlines – last-minute cancellations retain the full value but for a shorter period into the future.

So in this regard Covid presents the travel industry with a real opportunity, a way for the consumer to plan for the future without gambling away so much disposable income set aside for entertainment and travel.  At least not until the very last possible moment to do so.