International travel and tourism has ground to a halt globally. Many countries have closed borders. New Zealand is one of a just a handful of countries where they can have a domestic tourism market help to prop up it’s tourism operators until borders can reopen.

The extensive travel distribution industry made up of travel agencies, travel wholesalers, and inbound operators are however bleeding cash out the door. They are cancelling and refunding bookings left right and centre, or at best rescheduling for a year later. Many of these organisations have already had to close retail locations and implement large scale redundancies in order to operate at a bare minimum to get through this crisis. They have virtually no ability to earn new revenue while borders remain closed. Even online travel agents are struggling, like Booking.com who are laying off up to 25% of their workforce.

Catalyst for Change

With this significant loss of revenue and knowledge there is no doubt that the industry will suffer with extensive holes in the traditional travel distribution network through the other side of this crisis. It will be a catalyst for massive changes in the way travellers are able to plan, book and pay for their travel in the future.

On the one hand it will be an opportunity for tourism operators to harness the power of online bookings to increase their level of direct bookings from across the globe. But be prepared to get lost in the crowd because, as we all know, established travel distribution networks have still been big players in creating and directing demand for our destinations and products. Tourism operators who have worked hard at achieving close relationships with these distribution networks will have a tougher job at attracting similar levels of bookings to their business and may initially rely on government-funded regional tourism organisations to implement destination marketing campaigns.

It is too early to tell the full extent of the impacts on the travel distribution world-wide but we know it will be bad and will look for industry initiatives to rebuild traveller demand albeit in a more sustainable way.

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