It’s finally happened. The trans-Tasman travel bubble is open, allowing quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand for the first time in over a year. Zoom calls are no substitute for hugs, and footage of happy reunions has been beamed around the world as people from New Zealand and Australia hopped across the Tasman to see loved ones.
The travel bubble also has the potential to bring joy to the struggling travel industry, in the form of much-needed economic relief. In a normal year, Australians and New Zealanders spend billions in each other’s countries. Everyone is itching to return to those days.
Of course, this isn’t just about Australia and New Zealand. The whole world is watching to see how people react to a lifting of international travel restrictions, albeit between two closely-linked countries. Other travel bubbles are likely to follow the trans-Tasman bubble’s lead, especially as it succeeds. Consumers are watching to see how Australians and New Zealanders cope with travel in a post-COVID age. Tour operators want to understand more about the opportunities and challenges that come with a new travel bubble opening. And governments are looking for insights into how a travel bubble in their region might work.
Reunions are one thing, but will people jump in with both feet to start travelling again for purely recreational reasons? Will business travel start up again in earnest? Are people desperate to travel again, or has COVID-19 made foreign travel less attractive—meaning “staycations” are here to stay? Will Kiwis and Aussies take a “wait and see” approach, concerned about health risks or an outbreak leaving them stranded in another country?
One thing is for sure, tour operators need to prepare for a travel bubble so they can quickly boost sales once it’s open. Here are a few ways to attract bookings from Australians and New Zealanders, and prepare for other travel as borders begin to open up.
Make your business bubble-ready
Post-pandemic, people may want different things from travel—at least at first. Most of the travel since the trans-Tasman bubble has opened has been visiting friends and relatives (VFR). There was not an immediate rush to book package deals and accommodation and just go on holiday.
To prepare for a travel bubble, you might want to review your business operations—especially if your business has been closed for a while or operating at reduced capacity.
- Has your staffing changed, resulting in a change in capacity?
- Should you review your prices to factor in that people may have lost jobs or been relying on government stimulus programs, or are you expecting customers who have been saving up for a big trip and have money to splash?
- Can you offer discounts to entice people back?
- Are your staff prepped for the travel bubble opening?
You might also want to look at your tours and activities to make sure you are catering to different needs and priorities. It’s a good time to look for new opportunities, too. Here are some ideas specifically for travel-bubble travellers:
Small group tours
Even though most of the initial trans-Tasman travel has been VFR, this could create opportunities. Family and friends have been apart for a long time, so they may want to take a memorable trip together to make up for lost time. Creating memories together on an exclusive tour not only allows separated family members to reconnect, but it may also help to reassure anyone who might be nervous about travelling with those they don’t know.
While travel has been restricted, spa holidays, yoga retreats, and other “healthy travel” options have all become popular. The opening of a travel bubble could be an opportunity to enjoy this kind of recuperative break somewhere new. Individuals as well as groups could be interested in this kind of wellness retreat. “Me time” or “us time” travel could be huge post-pandemic.
Bucket list activities
There are likely to be people who have been saving their travel dollars for when borders open up. This could create a demand for booking big, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to celebrate the end of the pandemic (hopefully) and put the last year behind them.
While borders may open up, it might take longer for businesses to bring everyone back to the office. Remote work is likely to become a long-term reality for many people. Even in the short term after a travel bubble opens, people who are sick of staring at the same walls in their home office might be interested in booking somewhere abroad to work for a few days or even weeks. They could work in a different environment or a new city for a while, and enjoy some exciting activities they can book through you.
Educate and reassure customers
Travellers in both Australia and New Zealand will have questions. A lot of questions. What is the travel bubble? How will post-COVID travel be different? Will I travel in an actual bubble? Okay, maybe not that last one but your customers do have lots of questions. And they’re looking to their tour operators and travel companies to provide answers, ease their fears, and help them enjoy as smooth a reintroduction to foreign travel as possible.
It’s important for everyone to work together. Bubbles like the trans-Tasman will only work if people follow the relevant guidelines and safety protocols. Travel must be safe for people and the virus must not spread between the two countries. If not, the bubble will be closed.
In the same way as people have often judged businesses on their safety protocols during the pandemic, they’re likely to judge tour operators on how they react to a relaxing of restrictions. They’ll want to travel with a company they feel has their safety and wellbeing top of mind. Here are some tips for building trust while helping customers navigate a new post-pandemic world:
- Update your website with travel bubble-related information
- Answer all their questions and concerns fully and transparently
- Provide tips for post-COVID travel
- Make people feel safe when on your premises by reassuring them that all safety measures are still being implemented, despite things opening up
- When they travel with you, provide helpful reminders and guidance around mask usage, good hygiene, and other safety measures
- As new travel opens, address each origin separately as they may differ in terms of safety protocols and travel requirements
Things move fast during a pandemic, so keep a close eye on travel industry and other news related to your destinations in particular, but also the global pandemic status. That way you can respond quickly to changing situations and keep your customers informed.
Find like-minded partners
With an eye on providing new experiences to your customers, consider partnering up with businesses at your destinations. In the initial rush to see friends and family in Australia or New Zealand, people may not have planned specific activities. Once the initial excitement of seeing loved ones subsides, they may want suggestions for things to do.
By partnering with restaurants, activity providers, attractions, and other local tourism businesses, you can refer your customers to them. You can add these activities to your website and enable customers to book them easily online, including at the last minute. Reselling activities like this can help you boost your income through commissions, while also providing a valuable service to customers.
Refresh your website
According to this article, since the bubble opened, one popular whale-watching attraction in New Zealand experienced an 82.7% increase in visits to its website from potential Australian travellers. When a travel bubble opens up, people will go online to do their research. Is your website ready for them?
Aside from making sure your pricing and availability is up-to-date, it’s a great time to update your photos and tour descriptions. Make sure they are enticing and persuasive. While people have been waiting to book a trip for a very long time and may not need that much convincing, you can still add to their excitement and anticipation with dazzling pictures and emotive copy. Their travel experience starts on your website, so make sure their trip gets off to a great start.
You could promote “travel bubble discounts” through your website. Consider offering gift cards as a way for people to give the gift of travel to friends and family when a travel bubble opens?
Also bear in mind that people will talk about their plans—a lot. That means lots of opportunities to get word of mouth referrals. We’ve not had much good news to talk about over the last year, so you can be sure everyone who does travel will be sharing their photos, stories, and experiences. Encouraging your customers to leave reviews is also a good strategy as travel bubbles open up.
Use email marketing
Another way to prepare for a travel bubble like the trans-Tasman bubble is to start contacting previous customers via email. For example, email customers to invite them to take advantage of travel bubble offers or tours they may be interested in.
A mass email to travel bubble customers, but written in a personal way, can help you and your customers get to know each other again. Remember, we’ve all lived through the same pandemic experience to varying degrees. People want good news after the last year, and an email from a travel company they previously enjoyed a trip through counts as good news. It’s one more sign that things might be getting back to normal.
Reactivate your social media
One of the things people enjoy most about travel is the anticipation. This has never been more true than now. Aussies and Kiwis have been waiting a year for the chance to visit each other. Your social media may have been quieter during the pandemic, but a travel bubble opening is the perfect time to start broadcasting again. Join the conversation around the travel bubble on social, and take part in the general celebrations of things opening up. Share your stories and provide ideas for what people can do if they are considering a holiday or trip to see friends and family.
Social media is also a good medium to communicate changes to your tours, updates to your website, and any business changes, such as your operating hours or booking processes. If you offer online booking, remind people how easy it is to book a trip online through you. There’s going to be a lot of chat and excitement on social every time a new travel bubble opens. Try to play an active part so customers are aware of how you can help them get their travel on again.
Review your policies and terms
Even after a travel bubble opens, there is still uncertainty. What if a COVID outbreak happens that prevents customers who have booked a trip from traveling? Review your terms and conditions and think again about how you’ll handle cancellations. Make sure you have a policy that protects you and your customers. You can also offer TourShield trip protection to give customers confidence to book and protect your business.
Take online bookings
An online booking system meets one of the main needs of your customers when a travel bubble opens—a convenient and easy way to book your tours. Make sure your booking system is travel bubble-ready if you’ve had a period of inactivity:
- Is your merchant account in good standing with your payment provider?
- Is your payment gateway connected properly to your Rezgo account?
- Are your billing details up-to-date?
- Is your booking website enabled and ready for booking?
The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble, and the other bubbles that are sure to follow, is great news for everyone. Position your company to take advantage of the pent-up demand when borders begin to open up. Here at Rezgo, we’re as excited as you are. We’ll be with you every step of the way as you welcome customers back.