The New Year could hardly have got off to a worse start for the German tourism industry. Flexible responses and better information are now urgently required to reassure worried customers, says fvw's Paul Needham.
The terror attack in Istanbul on January 12, which killed 10 German tourists, was a terrible start to what was already looking like a tough year. The terror attacks in Tunisia, Egypt and Paris had made consumers worried about their holidays and many simply decided to ‘wait and see’ rather than commit themselves by making a booking. The Istanbul attack, in which Germans were the victims, has made the situation even worse, resulting in a dramatic slump in bookings for Turkey compared to the same time last year.
The main problem is that consumers simply cannot be sure which destinations will be safe to visit, especially when they are trying to plan several months in advance for a summer holiday. As a result, instead of the traditional ‘peak season’ for bookings, January looks like being another month with a big sales drop as Germans continue to delay their travel decisions.
Senior travel industry executives and managers have highlighted the threat of terror attacks as the biggest challenge for this year but their responses so far have been limited. It is clearly not enough simply to refer customers to the German foreign ministry’s travel advice for a country, especially as this is often fairly general and can change at short notice.
Tour operators could certainly publish more specific up-to-date information about destinations and resorts for customers, based on information from their incoming agencies and destination management staff. Similarly, tourist boards could be much more proactive in providing clear and unbiased information about the local situation in relevant destinations.
The most effective way to stimulate sales, however, would be to reassure customers that they can change their minds at short notice if necessary and without any financial loss. The initiatives of DER Touristik and Alltours to cancel re-booking charges for a change of destination and Thomas Cook’s Flex Option, allowing a re-booking up to 10 days before departure, are first steps in this direction. Other tour operators are likely to follow suit with similar measures.
After all, customers who book direct, especially for overland destinations that they can drive to, are in a more flexible position at present. If necessary, they can cancel the accommodation at short notice (although they may face cancellation charges) and simply drive to a different destination or country instead, booking alternative accommodation at short notice.
The organised travel industry therefore needs to come up with more flexible packages and travel arrangements to keep customers’ confidence and prevent a significant loss of business this year.