Alex Metzler, Co-founder and CFO of Enchanting Travels, tackles all the tough questions on travel and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
What has been the biggest impact of the pandemic on Enchanting Travels?
Obviously, the corona pandemic has been the biggest shock to our business and the whole travel industry that anyone can remember.
The travel restrictions caused by the pandemic have hurt our ability to execute long-haul trips since March. To counter this, we have developed our short-haul product. For the European market, new destinations like Iceland and Greece have proven relatively popular and we’ve included destinations such as Portugal, Italy and Russia. For the U.S. market, we’ve developed fantastic itineraries in Alaska, Hawaii, and across the western and southern states.
Being a part of the Travelopia group and the strong growth Enchanting Travels has experienced over the last 15 years, means the company stands well-placed to ride the crisis out.
As you mentioned, long-haul travel has practically come to a stop. How is Enchanting Travels functioning as a travel company at the moment?
Enchanting Travels has always been a very flexible, digital-driven company with team members all around the world. Most of our video conferences have participants from at least four different time zones!
When the pandemic first kicked off, it was all hands on deck, getting our guests back home. Thanks to the efforts of our staff and partners on the ground, we were able to repatriate all our guests in a very short time – in a matter of days. Our trip concierge service offers guests 24/7 support and it’s something that made a real difference for our guests during the initial crisis period.
Following this, we turned our attention to customers who had booked travel for this year. We have strong relationships with a lot of our guests. That, combined with very flexible booking conditions, meant we have been able to achieve around 75% rescheduled bookings for next year – which is probably an industry record.
Many of our destinations are still subject to travel warnings, so we’ve also shifted away from classic sales and moved more towards interacting and staying in touch with our guests. In Q3 of this year, we managed to reach out directly to almost 2500 guests – of which about 1/3 are repeat guests – and gathered some valuable insights from that contact. We learned, for example, that around 25% want to begin planning their travel again as soon as possible, or by the end of the year. We also learned that the two most important factors for our guests in deciding whether to book or not are a flexible cancellation policy and safety in the destination – elements that we cover through our covid insurance, 24/7 concierge service, increased hygiene and safety protocols, and flexi-booking options.
The pandemic has also compelled us to create an almost 100% home office set-up. This was actually a relatively small challenge, as Enchanting Travels has always been a very flexible, digital-driven company with team members all around the world. Most of our video conferences have participants from at least four different time zones!
We have also been increasingly involved in projects within the Travelopia group. Enchanting Travels has recently taken over the tour operation business for the UK tailor-made travel brand, Hayes & Jarvis. And, as I mentioned previously, we’re also expanding our short-haul portfolio, so the team is well-occupied.
Do you see a recovery in the near future?
As long as there is no vaccination or effective treatment against Corona, we must expect potential travelers to remain hesitant to book or to make more last-minute bookings. On the positive side, we know that there will be some pent-up demand once travel restrictions are lifted and airlines resume their services. We expect 2021 to be a year of gradual normalization.
Our segment of higher-end, tailor-made trips will likely see good growth rates from the financial year 2022 onwards. As a company, Enchanting Travels is expecting to be back on track for strong growth from 2022 onwards.
What long-term effects do you think the pandemic will have on travel and on the travel industry in general?
As we have already seen, some tour operators and a lot of travel agents have already had to shut up shop. More tourism companies will be forced to leave the market as we go into the end of 2020. Business travel is also likely to be strongly affected in the mid-term, as people become more used to video conferencing and digital ways to meet.
In contrast, I think the popularity of domestic and short-haul leisure travel, which the pandemic has promoted, is a trend we are likely to see continue for the next two or three years, as travelers worldwide choose to stick closer to home.
More specifically for tour operators, safety, flexibility and trust will play an increasingly important role in how potential customers choose where and with whom they travel. It’s an idea that we’ve seen supported by data from our guest survey: For around 1/3 of our guests, service was the most important element of why they chose to travel with Enchanting Travels. Only a little over 8% said that value-for-money was their top reason for choosing us. When travel becomes harder to plan, it’s a good opportunity for experts and service-oriented companies, like ours, to show their worth.
Learn more about private tours with Enchanting Travels.
What have you personally, and as a businessperson, learned from the crisis so far?
As I mentioned, customer service and taking good care of our guests has become even more of a focus. Being agile and flexible as a business has also become crucial; we need to build to adapt, not just build to last.
On a personal note, when times are tough, I feel it’s more important than ever to keep a positive spirit and not forget our sense of empathy and humanity.