Atas members have shared challenges and solutions to develop safety standards, says G Adventures managing director Brian Young  

After months of lockdown and a complete halt for the travel industry, the recent government announcement of ‘safe’ countries, coupled with the softening of FCO advisories around a number of destinations comes as welcome news to all.

Many operators were already reporting increased demand and interest from customers looking to travel before the end of the year and this announcement has provided the reassurance that will no doubt accelerate those green shoots of recovery.

All systems go, and full steam ahead, may be the attitude for many, but before operators charge forward to capture that pent-up customer demand, there are a number of steps to be considered.

For G Adventures, as we announce this week the launch of a small collection of September departures, our team have been working behind the scenes for months to ensure we are well positioned and ready for when travel restrictions were lifted. Unlike past crises faced by the industry, the shadow of the pandemic still looms and our road to recovery looks very different to one we have trodden before. That’s why careful planning, sharing and open conversations are essential.

As we begin to navigate the new world of travel, safety has to be at the forefront, to ensure the protection of our travellers, staff and suppliers. When you’re dealing with so many variables, it’s no easy task, but a robust safety policy that outlines guidelines for all parties and best practices will play a key role in helping customers to feel confident when booking and, more importantly, while on their trip.

As we see operators beginning to release their policies, collaboration has played a huge role in helping to set the industry up for success. From ATAS, our members have shared challenges and solutions to help us develop our safety standards, which have been rolled out by all members, and from G Adventures side, we have worked closely with the Adventure Travel Trade Association to create a set of industry health and safety guidelines, focused on activities such as trekking, biking and rafting. This collaborative mentality across the industry is both positive and essential as we move to this new environment geared towards protecting and building consumer confidence to travel.

As an operator, the second focus needs to be your suppliers. As an integral part of any start-up, suppliers will have suffered badly over this period, with no customers to fuel their business. In G Adventures’ case, a large proportion of these are small community-based hotels, local businesses or community tourism projects that rely on tourism for income. Building and supporting their businesses is an essential part of our road to recovery but, in order to do this, open dialogues on how we do this responsibly, in line with new safety procedures, along with clear communication to set expectations is crucial.

Of course, in all recovery plans, our customers play the starring role. At a time like this, where confidence is dented, consumer behaviours can be unpredictable, which is why using sound data is more important than ever.

Tracking insights from online search, calls into our Boombox (contact centre), sales performance, destination interest and conversations with our agents partners about what they’re seeing has helped us to paint a clearer picture of what our travellers want.

One trend that emerged early on in the lockdown was an increased search for our active trips. It became clear that travellers were enjoying a newfound love of the outdoors, relishing their exercise time and this was translating into interest in tours that allowed them to challenge themselves physically. As we developed our September collection for the UK market, this insight fed into the inclusion of tours such as Trekking Mont Blanc and walking the Camino de Santiago, which we are already seeing great demand for.

Finally, sharing all of the above with agents completes the circle of recovery. Supporting partners to help them understand the data we share and how they can use that to reassure and drive conversions amongst their customers is essential. We need to listen to partners to understand their needs so we can support and share, be it through marketing and assets or simplifying processes to help them on their own road to recovery. We are all in this together as we take those first steps towards the new world of travel.