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How will COVID-19 Affect Your Travel Plans?
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How will COVID-19 Affect Your Travel Plans?

How will COVID-19 Affect Your Travel Plans?

Since first identified in late 2019, COVID-19 has spread to dozens of countries and impacted many businesses and industries worldwide. One major industry impacted by the Coronavirus is the travel industry. It’s not just the cruise operators, hotels, and airlines that have been impacted by the stay-at-home orders. Many tour operators, including adventure travel operators, have also taken a hit. In fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, 15.8 million American jobs are supported by the travel industry, and globally, the travel industry generates 330 million jobs (about 1 out of every 10 jobs on Earth). But even if you are not employed by the travel industry, you are likely to be affected in some way – whether you or someone you know travels for business or for leisure.

How are Tour Operators Reacting to COVID-19?

As with every industry, various companies and operators are reacting differently. While some companies are not able to offer refunds, many are working in real-time to create flexible policies and work with their clients. Here at Austin Adventures, we continue to feel a bit isolated from the real hard hit corners of the globe. The team continues to work remotely from home in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and to keep our employees safe. We are adjusting with regular team Zoom calls. We are one of the few tour operators that has avoided layoffs. We have had to learn how to adapt to this new way of working – communication between everyone has been key. We have also been at the forefront of updating our policies and anticipating guest needs to reflect this new time:

  • Lightened COVID-19 Cancellation Policies

    • Many tour operators are working to revise their policies in these trying times, and that includes their cancellation policies. At Austin Adventures, we have created a lightened cancellation policy for our guests, allowing them to reschedule or cancel their trips and put their funds into an escrow account to use towards a future trip – any place, and any time. We encourage guests to reschedule their trips instead of outright canceling, as it makes a world of difference in supporting Austin Adventures and the travel industry in general.
    •  First of all, it should be noted that due to Austin Adventures’ “family vibe”, we work with every guest, who we consider an extension to the Austin family, to figure out what works best for them and their individual situations on a case-by-case basis. We have worked hard on creating a new set of policies that helps support the travel industry while also supporting our guests – as we know times are tough for everybody. These new policies include placing a portion of guest funds into escrow if they would like to cancel or reschedule their trip. What’s more, if Austin Adventures cancels a trip (and with the recent closures of national parks and their accommodations, we’ve had to do so) we are offering 110% credit towards a future trip.
  • New Adventure Travel Products

    • We are continuously working to create new departures based on guest feedback and industry trends, and that has not changed because of the virus. If anything, we are working harder than ever to create new products based on our guest’s feedback, and what we believe their travel desires will be once it is safe to travel again.
    •  We are working to create more trips across the country, as right now much of our domestic trips are focused in the western part of the country. We hope this allows guests to feel safer when traveling, as they can stay a bit closer to home and perhaps even drive to their destination instead of flying. We are also considering other measures to increase guest well-being, including lowering the number of guests on each trip (already one of the lowest in the industry) and looking into other ways we can make guests feel more comfortable (less people per van – avoiding tourist areas, etc.).
    •  Finally, this fall, we will be hosting a “comeback tour” of sorts, when we believe it will be safe to travel again. These tours will be with members of the Austin Family. There is no better group to travel with than the first family of Adventure Travel, especially when everyone is just starting to “dip their toes” back into travel. These trips will take place in national parks with an emphasis on the outdoors and avoiding crowds (like all of our trips do).
  • Compassion

    • As things unfold, we are all seeing the impact close to home, both emotionally and economically. We will do whatever we can to continue to support all those fighting the good fight. The most important thing right now is compassion – to each other, to our guests, and to our partners. We make a conscious effort to be compassionate every single day. An example of this is our newly implemented Travel Agent Stimulus Program, which we hope provides some much-deserved relief in a time of need. Through this program:
      • Austin Adventures will pay travel agents half of their commission for all new bookings in 2020 and 2021 at the time of booking, rather than paying commission only after the travel takes place and the guests return home. Valid through 6/1/21.
      • Austin Adventures is setting aside special departures for travel agents and their customers from the fall of 2020 through 2021. Each agent who books 10 customers on their departure will get the 12% commission, in addition to free travel for themselves and a traveling companion.
  • ABCs – Anticipate, Be Honest, Communicate

    • Finally, one of our most important policies at Austin Adventures has been the “ABC’s” – Anticipate, Be Honest, and Communicate. We as a team meet weekly to anticipate what trips will need to be modified or canceled, anticipate what our guests will need from us both now and in the future, and to anticipate what will be happening with the ever-changing virus and the policies created because of it. We are always 100% honest with our guests and our partners, and feel that they can make an informed decision because of this. Finally, and in line with being honest, we work hard to communicate now more than ever. We communicate with our guests, with our partners, and with each other. Over-communication during this time has been key.
    •  A quick note on one of the needs we anticipated early on – the need for parents to find entertaining and educational content for their children as everyone works and attends school from home. We have created a very popular program called Virtual Adventures for Kids. It is a weekly virtual meeting where our President and resident Zoom star, Kasey Austin, takes kids on an adventure to a different part of the world. They learn about animals, geography, languages, and so much more. We have consistently gotten nothing but positive feedback for this, and are so happy we can provide some fun during this time.

Upcoming Travel Industry Trends:

As we are constantly watching the travel industry, we have recognized some trends that we believe will be upcoming once it is safe to travel again. These are trends based on information we have garnered from others in the industry, from experts in the travel and medical fields, and from our own guests, who are great communicators, even during this difficult time. First, some data:

  • 3% Of our guests managed to travel during early 2020 as planned
  • 10% Canceled 2020 with no plans to travel
  • 4% Postponed and rescheduled for later in 2020
  • 4% Postponed and rescheduled for 2021
  • 17% Postponed and left travel plans open
  • 62% Remain scheduled to travel in 2020

When Can We Travel Again?

There is no right answer to this question. As we all know, things regarding coronavirus change daily. That being said, we are starting to field calls and emails about future travel plans. We do believe that domestic travel is going to be the first to return to some form of normalcy. We have seen numerous reports, and our own guest feedback confirms this. Road trips, camping, and trips that allow people to “dip their toes back in the water” will be popular for some time. This includes domestic adventure travel, which places an emphasis on nature, staying active, and visiting remote places. Demand for travel from being pent-up will most likely be significant.

Along with this, small groups and more remote travel will be much more attractive to people for some time.

Multigenerational travel will grow

Though multigenerational travel has been steadily increasing in popularity, many experts believe that it will grow exponentially when travel is safe again. With families being separated for months and months, they will relish in a chance to be together and enjoy each others company. The value of time spent together (and the value of travel in general) has only become more apparent.

In Closing

The travel industry is very resilient, and, with the support of our guests and partners, as well as the support of each other, we will rebound fairly quickly. The motto at Austin Adventures during this time has been “This too shall pass”, and when it does, we’ll be stronger and better than ever.

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