How can the naturist travel industry pick itself up from the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic? And what lessons can be learned for the future?
It’s an unprecedented situation, unlike anything any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. Or want to see again. The effect it has already had, and will continue to have, on the global economy will be discussed and debated by the financial experts and the politicians (rarely the same thing unfortunately) for years, whilst the rest of us wait/hope/pray for things to return to ‘normal.’ If they ever do.
In terms of business failures, the impact on the international travel industry could be catastrophic, and whilst it might be tempting to want to turn inward as an escape from the real world for a while, that would be naïve and foolhardy. If you own or operate a naturist-related business, it is a subject that needs to be tackled, as every aspect of travel - from transportation and accommodation to border controls and insurance - is likely to change from hereon. And not necessarily for the good.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Travel restrictions are being lifted, and the average person - bored with self-isolating and having had very little to spend their money on for 18 months or more - will be desperate to get away for a holiday.
So, are you geared up to take advantage? Here’s a quick action plan:
1) Re-confirm bookings as soon as they come in. If clients are still reluctant to commit, what terms and conditions do you apply? The last thing you want is for somebody to block off dates, only for them to then cancel at a late stage, leaving you unable to sell them to anybody else. A room night is the ultimate perishable commodity: once the date is gone, it has no value.
2) Don’t write-off the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Make sure you have a series of attractive promotions and discounts at the ready, and the ability (by short-lead time means such as social media) to publicise them. You might also have to look closer to home (i.e. your domestic or neighbouring country market) as the airline industry takes time to recover and re-group. And if you only usually open for business each year from May to October (if you’re in the northern hemisphere of course), consider extending your season.
3) Don’t necessarily expect that you will be able to hold your high-season prices as you would in normal times. July, August and September (again in the northern hemisphere) are the prime months for summer business, but anybody willing to travel might still be expecting to pick up a deal.
4) With cash flow badly hit by loss of revenue, it might be tempting to slash your advertising and promotion budgets. Don’t. It is very short-sighted. Business WILL come back, you need to maintain a high profile in what has for some time been a very competitive niche market, and long-term bookings will ensure your survival and sustained viability. If people don’t see that you are still in business, they might simply assume that you are not.
5) Take the current crisis (not to mention enforced inactivity) as an opportunity to plan for the future, and possibly even re-think certain aspects of your business model. Have you been doing anything wrong in the past that you have been meaning to change, but have ‘never had the time?’ Are there ways of extending your season? Targeting a new market? Upgrading your product offer?
6) The more optimistic (or possibly idealistic?) of social commentators believe that COVID might be a wake-up call for the world, and we will emerge from it as better inhabitants of the planet: more socially responsible, more environmentally-friendly, healthier, more in touch with ‘the bigger picture’ of life and less concerned with materialism. If so, the naturist travel industry should be perfectly placed to benefit.
CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Most of the theory of crisis management in the travel industry is aimed at the bigger players: airlines, cruise companies, tour operators, hotel groups and the like. But there are some basic principles that even the smallest business can adopt. Whilst nobody could have predicted how something like Coronavirus could have become so all-encompassing so quickly, or how serious a problem it would be, what about the next crisis? Depending on whereabouts you are in the world, what could be the possible impact on your business of future (and potentially more foreseeable) problems such as extreme weather or geological forces, economic turmoil, political or social unrest, transportation/IT failures, or other health-related situations? Are you prepared?
Here are a few pointers to consider:
1) Try to identify risks or hazards before they become realities
2) Evaluate the probabilities, timeframes and potential impacts of each risk and then classify and prioritise them
3) Formulate contingency action plans for mitigating the potential impact of each risk
4) Monitor the likely effectiveness of these plans by constant review
5) Communicate at the earliest possible stage with your clients should problems materialise
You can’t plan for every eventuality of course, but there are two areas in particular - insurance and terms & conditions of contracts - where not only many tourists but also many travel providers (which includes you if you run a naturist guest house, apartment, hotel, holiday resort, campsite or cruise company) have been caught unawares by the impact of Coronavirus.
Maybe now is the time to take another look at the small print in your insurance policies to determine exactly what you are covered for, as well as re-assessing your own T’s & Cs regarding deposits, stages of future/final payments, cancellation/change of date clauses, refunds, credit notes, re-scheduling and supplier failure.
You can’t be too careful.
© PAUL ROUSE