HOW THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY IS HANDLING POST-PANDEMIC TRAVEL
From waiving cancellation fines to implementing ad hoc safety safety measures, the travel sector is well prepared for new travel requirements
A Jetgala Digital Exclusive
Posted on April 19, 2022.
Luxury tour operator Scott Dunn (www.scottdunn.com) is gearing up for the resumption of travel, says General Manager Mike Harlow. “With how volatile travel has been and will likely continue to be, peace of mind is essential in booking trips.
“We’ve introduced more flexibility into our booking policies to protect guest holidays. With this in place, guests feel assured when they book with us as it allows them to flex their travel plans if there are disruptions caused by Covid-19.”
With over 30 years of experience in the trade, Scott Dunn is confident they can deal with unpredictable situations just as they successfully managed those during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and the SARS epidemic in the early 2000.
“Guest safety has always been our number one priority,” Harlow asserts. “Our global team infrastructure, which functions round the clock 24/7, is an invaluable asset in unpredictable times. Guests can always rely on having someone from our team to assist them wherever they are in the world at any time of day.”
Prior to a trip, guests receive a comprehensive itinerary guide that outlines key travel information and travel tips. The respective travel specialist personally goes through these documents with them to ensure they are well briefed and clear on what to expect on their trip.
For unforeseen events or emergencies, guests can call a 24/7 hotline for assistance. A global network of suppliers and partners provide extra help on ground when required. “This has translated into us being able to help repatriate guests home safely before any border closures or finding suitable alternative solutions when there are flight delays or other unforeseen circumstances,” Harlow adds.
From the planning phase, the Scott Dunn team advises guests on what to expect at their destination and propose the best options according to their profile, requirements and preferences, Harlow says. “This includes educating and sharing with guests the current situation in the destination based on official advisories and first-hand information from our partners on the ground.”
This allows guests to adjust their expectations and make informed decisions should they want to proceed. On top of administrative support, the Scott Dunn team also sends out reminders and updates to enable guests to stay on top of things and able to experience seamless travel.
Harlow observes that different guest segments have emerged recently: those who travel for essential reasons, those who can’t wait to get out again, and those who prefer to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
“We expect more middle segment travellers to be willing to invest in their holidays and book through a trusted travel operator that will help in managing their risks and assist with all the additional layers of admin, ensuring that they experience each destination as fully and safely as possible.
“We’ve also noticed the shift away from DIY travel, especially since travel budgets have increased due to the lack of it in the past two years. We’ve seen an increase in new guests as they find value in our service and experience.”
Although Chiva-Som (www.chivasom.com) continues to accept bookings, it anticipates occasional cancellations. “We cannot avoid them,” says Vaipanya Kongkwanyuen, General Manager, “travellers are facing challenges due to inconvenient policies and procedures from each country, so we deal with these on a case-by-case basis.”
Chiva-Som, a renowned health resort, is currently waiving cancellation charges to guests who change their travel dates or postpone their bookings due to travel restrictions. Kongkwanyuen reports that the response to the measure has been positive and has even helped increase the booking numbers to a “satisfactory level” considering the international travel situation.
The resort based in Hua Hin, Thailand has been welcoming regular and returning guests; it has also been actively promoting the resort to the domestic tourist market in order to sustain day to day business.
Kongkwanyuen acknowledges the drawbacks of the interim procedure to enter Thailand, which requires several documents and costly tests. It includes uploading documents on the Thailand Pass website, undergoing RT PCR test 72 hours before departure flight, and paying for the Covid-19 insurance valued at USD 50,000, among others.
The procedure and its requirements vary according to the individual circumstance of the traveller, thus making it difficult to explain using a single standard guideline.
“We keep in regular contact with our guests and provide any information and support they may need when they begin planning their stay at Chiva-Som. We ensure that we follow WHO protocols and hygiene standards strictly to create the safest environment possible for our guests,” he adds.
In cases of unforeseen development, guests are informed immediately. “Being well-informed and sharing information has worked to further strengthen the trust and understanding between ourselves and our guests, which makes them feel even more at ease when they stay with us,” Kongkwanyuen says.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) is focusing on the safe and gradual return to sailing this year; of the 17 vessels in its fleet, 11 are already back in operation. “When the time is right, we look forward to welcoming our ships back to Asia, too,” adds Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific at NCL.
To ensure guest safety and protection, NCL is adhering to its comprehensive, multi-layered Sail Safe health and safety protocols guided by leading experts of the Global Health and Wellness Council. “We continuously refine and improve these protocols as the science, knowledge and technology around the virus improves,” Angell says.
Later this year, NCL will launch a new Prima Class in Northern Europe – the Norwegian Prima, the first of the six ships with voyages to Iceland and Norway. This game-changing ship will feature an enhanced The Haven by Norwegian, a ship-within-a-ship concept, according to Angell. The luxury keycard access suite-enclave will allow guests entry to an exclusive infinity pool, sundeck, bar, lounge and restaurant through its own dedicated elevator bank.
“It’s the perfect option for travellers who enjoy all the amenities of a larger ship, including dining options, entertainment and activities, as well as the three-storey Prima Speedway, but still enjoy retreating to their VIP paradise from time to time,” Angell elaborates.
NCL is providing more booking options for travellers, opening up the largest number of itineraries ever for voyages departing in 2022, 2023 and 2024. Its Extraordinary Journeys collection, for example, takes travellers to bucket-list and off-the-beaten-track destinations with longer, slower cruises that allow them pause and enjoy the journey.
NCL’s Sail Safe protocols protect guests at every stage of their journey, Angell points out. All crew members and guests above five years old are fully vaccinated; universal testing is conducted prior to boarding, and socially responsible check-in processes is observed.
Onboard capacity has been reduced and social distancing protocols are implemented; ship-wide sanitation and disinfection protocols are in place, and medical teams and health services are available. Medical-grade air filtration systems have been installed on every ship, and a dedicated public health officer oversees the health and safety protocols and processes onboard.
“Ashore, we have partnered with local destinations and tour operators to extend our practices on the ground, while we continually monitor the environment around the globe in case itinerary modifications are required.” The Sail Safe protocols does not mean that the overall cruise experience is compromised, Angell emphasises. “Our travellers’ journey at sea and land continues to be a spectacular experience for all.”
He cites that on their cruises to Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe which have resumed recently, guests’ feedback has been positive. “Not only are they thrilled to be back on the water, but they have also never felt safer. For the international traveller, that means they can return to cruising with confidence. The introduction of the comprehensive refund and cancellation policy also boosts travellers’ confidence.
“We are living in a new age of travel,” Angell declares. “There are more protocols and requirements to consider, but that should not deter us from booking that trip we have long dreamed of.”
PIMALAI RESORT & SPA
Charintip Tiyaphorn, owner representative of Pimalai Resort & Spa (www.pimalai.com) in Krabi, Thailand, is also the current president of the Krabi Tourism Council. “I chose to engage myself to be as close to the decision makers of Thailand as much as possible,” she says.
“Every business operator in Krabi has to survive this pandemic so I put a lot of effort to ensure that Krabi reopens first. There is no point in thinking of a survival strategy for Pimalai alone while other businesses struggle. We have to survive together because we live in the same ecosystem.”
Last year, she helped obtain vaccines for Krabi residents, proposed to reopen Krabi to international visitors, and worked with the local health officials and police force to come up with safety procedures.
Tiyaphorn also spearheaded PR campaigns for better exposure to the domestic market. Local tourists were eager to experience the resort’s services and unique location which are backed by reputation earned over the past 20 years, she says.
Working closely with the Krabi health officials, Tiyaphorn got a better grasp of the regulations and procedures, particularly the Test & Go and Sandbox* programmes.
When parts of Krabi, namely, Phi Phi, Railay and Koh Ngai were placed under the Sandbox, she assigned 10 Pimalai staff as call centre operators to answer questions about the programme. As a result, the Pimalai staff became well-versed with the system, procedures, and regulations early, allowing them to recommend the most convenient ways to enter Thailand to guests.
Pimalai is registered as quarantine hotel and isolation hotel. “We do not accept outside guests, but we are prepared in case our internal guests contract Covid-19 during their stay,” Tiyaphorn says. “We are still performing antigen test on all our staff on weekly basis so that immediate action can be taken. We have a dedicated team that looks after Covid-positive cases; they have direct contact with hospitals and the Krabi health officials so that the guests they look after can remain safe and travel back to their home countries easily.”
Tiyaphorn says Pimalai charges guests a minimum rate for quarantine at the resort, mainly for electricity, water and equipment. This means a 50 per cent discount for room service and everything else at cost. “No one wishes to be in quarantine; we do this to make the situation less stressful for our guests. It has worked for us thus far. We had guests who extended their stay and came back to stay with us because they were happy that with the accommodation we provided during their quarantine.”
*The Phuket Sandbox is a programme that allows foreign travellers to visit Phuket province without having to undergo quarantine. They must have a negative RT-PCR test result before they can enjoy traveling and do leisure activities throughout Phuket.
THE WOODWARD, OETKER COLLECTION
At The Woodward (www.oetkercollection.com/hotels/the-woodward), a 26-key, all-suite hotel in Geneva Switzerland, the focus is on being flexibility in terms of available resources, according to its General Manager, Alessio Minetto. “Our strategy is to show flexibility and adapt quickly to these unstable target market.”
From the start, the marketing efforts associated with the launch of the hotel in September 2021 depended on health measures and restrictions, and directed at markets with fewer travel restrictions. They also ensured that guests who have been invited to stay could reach them easily in order to avoid frustrations.
“Our objective is to deliver exquisite service with appropriate the talents and resources available to set the tone as a new player and be identified as a Masterpiece hotel of the Oetker Collection,” Minetto says.
“The comfort, health and safety of our guests and employees are our primary concern. In these uncertain times, it’s vital to ensure our guests that The Woodward’s high standards of health and hygiene are firmly in place.”
Pursuant to the guidelines set by the Federal Council and the associated protection plan, The Woodward systematically put new measures in place at the hotel restaurants and spa. “Our team remains available for clarifications regarding the requirements and measures in place as those could vary from one week to the other.”
Minetto emphasizes that guests appreciate a clear instruction and information, guidance on adapting to local measures, and provision of required materials, such as PCR test kits. “The additional charges generated by tests or medical support enable guests to travel, stay with us or reach another targeted country. They would be grateful and cooperative,” Minetto says.
He adds that the hotel’s team does its best to reduce the time spent on procedures, including contacting medical personnel to conduct tests. The hotel organises PCR tests in the hotel upon request, study the guests’ travel requirements, and ensure that all the required documents are delivered in time for their return home or forward journey.
“We offer peace of mind by assigning our guest relations agents to see to the time-consuming administrative aspects of travel. Guests can focus on their personal health and well-being, as well as the enjoyment of their stay.