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How luxury travel businesses should prepare for the 2021 summer season

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News of vaccination rollouts across the globe has filled many of us with renewed hope in the possibility of foreign travel this summer. As consumers, we are excited yet tentative to book escapes, keen to go out and see the world after so long in lockdown, yet nervous about the safety of these new freedoms. As a travel business, this is exactly why we must prepare adequately for what will undoubtedly be a busy and highly unusual summer season.

Luxury travel this summer is set to boom. In particular, yachts, villas and private jets, all mainstays of luxury travel that offer a degree of isolation, are on the rise, with one rental company, The Thinking Traveller, reporting a 100% increase in enquiries compared to this time last year. But this boom also applies to other areas of the luxury travel market, with Marbella’s exclusive beach club Puente Romano Beach Resort reporting to have already reached 50% occupancy for the whole of August.

People who may have previously not chosen luxury travel have the potential to upgrade in 2021, with some wanting to splash out on the ‘trip of a lifetime’ after a hard year of restrictions, and others seeing luxury options as the way to stay safer while traveling. HNW and UHNWIs are also predicted to be making even more extravagant bookings than unusual for summer 2021, perhaps booking larger yachts or for longer times, and with more bucket-list excursions.

All this will be music to the ears of the travel industry, which has undoubtedly had a difficult year. However, it might also seem quite overwhelming, with post-COVID holiday requirements being vastly different to what was expected before the pandemic. Let’s discuss ways that we can prepare ourselves in order to best serve clients in summer 2021. Here’s how to prepare your business for a surge of luxury travel this summer.

Guide clients through potential restrictions

Start by doing extensive research, which will ensure you have all your facts straight when the season arrives. Subscribe to international and regional tourism updates from reputable sources to ensure you have the right information, and plan for as many different scenarios as possible. This will ensure you are less blindsided by any further ‘unprecedented’ times.

Then, pass this knowledge onto your clients. Take a hint from Louis Vuitton’s successful City Guides, which have run since 1998 and have established themselves as the ultimate travel companions, in turn making Louis Vuitton seeming like an authority in travel, Of course, in Covid times these will require slightly different information, perhaps covering curfews and restricted activities (clubbing, large gatherings, etc) as well as the more typical holiday guide material.

Since you will be updating these frequently as rules change, making these luxury travel marketing guides digital will allow for flexibility. They can then be shared over social media, perhaps with the full guide only available to those who consent to adding their email address to your mailing list.

Creating these guides not only demonstrates that you’ve gone the extra mile to make sure your client experience is impeccable, but also that your business is at the forefront of industry trends - a brand to be relied on.

Research and understand vaccine passports

If required for your particular business, we also recommend becoming an expert on the Covid vaccine passport that is expected to facilitate international travel this summer. The ICVP (International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis) is a World Health Organisation certificate that was introduced in the early 2000’s as a way to combat the spread of Yellow fever, and will likely be used this summer to allow people safe admission to foreign countries.

Pay attention as further information is released by the WHO, and start to look into the ICVP requirements if this is data that you will need to collect. To cater to these requirements, your customer relationship management (CRM) will be more important than ever before, providing a secure space where information can be collected, stored and easily retrieved.

Anticipate customer needs and demands: Make your offer exceptional

Think in terms of unique experience. If one thing has become even more certain this past year, it’s that people seek unusual experiences and thrills - in 2021, luxury is about so much more than a nice pool and a golf course.

After a year and a half of limited traveling and staying at home, people will be looking for out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Show them what makes your brand/location special. Luxury travel this summer will be more about branding your service as a bespoke, authentic experience that respects local customs and traditions, rather than a hotspot for an international clientèle, which people could realistically find anywhere in the world.

Promote rigorous standards of hygiene

Spell out your cleaning protocols to guests to ensure that everyone feels safe, and show that you are actively working to enforce these protocols. For example, a private villa company might make it clear in its luxury travel marketing that it has introduced more regular deep cleans as well as additional cleaning services, or a hotel restaurant might show the client they are receiving clean silverware that hasn’t been touched by others by bringing it to them on a platter as they sit down.

All recent pictures on your website/social media should be visually reflective of the current situation, such as distanced tables and pool chairs, and markings on the floor delineating safe distances between people. Offer branded masks, wipes, and hand gel as an added touch.

Christelle Besnier, senior spa director at the Four Seasons Hotels, said of the hotel’s own cleaning policies: “There has been an implementation of a clear and reassuring signage, as well as an efficient training of the team to protect themselves and be able to confidently guide and educate the guests. Cleaning duties are no longer to be hidden – they are the shining stars and guardians of everyone's safety.”

Support private transportation

Many HNW clients will reduce sanitary concerns by using private transportation - think jets, helicopters and drivers. Make sure your location is able to support these or offer private and secure transfers. If you are currently not able to, look into partnering with specialist companies who can help you provide a more complete package for luxury travel this summer. This is another area that Four Seasons has executed well, showing a clear link to its private jet offering on its homepage to reassure clients that their needs are understood.

Offer flexible cancellations

Be flexible with cancellations and make this known in your luxury travel marketing. Most people won’t risk booking with you if there is little to no flexible cancellation policy - if you can’t afford to offer refunds, make sure clients are at least able to re-book in the future.

To encourage people to book sooner rather than later and secure your summer season, why not add a few extras for those who book in the next 30 days, for example a complimentary bottle of Champagne on arrival or hot stone massages included in the price of booking.

Don’t forget to look after your staff

It’s easy to get lost in how you can best care for your clients, but don’t forget that your staff are the driving force behind your profits. Make sure that staff are well looked after and that you address any concerns they have to make them as comfortable as possible, as this will enable them to deliver their best possible service.

Andrea Lomas, head of group spa operations at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, discussed how the Mandarin looks after its staff, saying: “Since 2015, we have been offering colleague wellness programs in our hotels and corporate offices. In 2020, we increased these offerings to daily wellness tips and a variety of digital content: videos, live-streaming and audio meditations, together with the launch of an online course called Inner Strength Outer Strength. This course is designed to help our colleagues stay strong, both physically and emotionally, helping them to come back to work being at their best and ready to be of service to others. The course focuses on three areas: physical vitality, mental vitality and character strengths.”

Incorporate more digital into your customer experience

It is likely that some restrictions will still apply into summer 2021. Having the technology in place to offer things like virtual fitness classes, QR codes for menus and information, or perhaps a dedicated concierge app for your services, will make a return to luxury summer travel so much easier.

For example, the luxury Park Hyatt hotel chain has an app called World of Hyatt, which allows you to manage any stays easily by digitally modifying reservations, checking in, requesting items to your room, viewing room charges, and checking out on the go. This avoids unnecessary in-person contact while making these admin-style processes run quicker and smoother. Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and each travel business will need its own unique solution.

Rumble Romagnoli, president at Relevance