Travel brands that have looked after their customers during the pandemic will thrive in the recovery phase of the crisis, according to cruise, ski and airline bosses.

A virtual World Travel Market session about reputations heard from senior leaders at Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Atlantic and Ski Solutions parent Active Travel Group.

Asked if airlines would use incentives and added extras to drive seat sales when travel resumes, Lee Haslett, vice president, global sales, at Virgin Atlantic, said customers would choose who they fly with based on the airline’s reputation.

Noting Virgin “will continue to be competitive” on price, he said customers’ choices will be based on “what brands deliver in order to look after their customers” as companies “rebuild trust”.

Haslett accepted the last six months had been “challenging” for Virgin and said that travel agents will play a key role in the aviation sector’s recovery.

“I really believe that travel agents that have looked after their customers will keep those customers, and that will be more important than ever before during the recovery of this industry,” he said.

Craig Burton, chief executive of Active Travel Group, said customers will buy from companies that treated them well at the height of the crisis, rather than seeking discounts or deals.

He said: “The ski industry has not universally shown itself well through this. We have seen examples of business shutting down the shutters. Short-term decisions will be based on whether they were looked after when the going was tough. That will influence a lot of buying decisions.”

Burton said Ski Solutions “consciously chose to take a long-term view” and “believe that doing right by our customers will proove the right decision”.

He also said he believed the ski holiday market had “swelled” before Covid and expected a “shakedown” of brands.

Jo Rzymowska, vice president and EMEA managing director at Celebrity Cruises, said: “Brands that truly have a purpose are becoming more important.”

She noted Celebrity’s efforts in promoting gender equality and diversity and said the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement this year had brought these issues into focus even more.

“The old world has gone,” she said. “We are coming back into a new world.”