The short-term and long-term lack of foresight over how the coronavirus scenario will unfold turns out to be the biggest headache for tour operators.
As the pandemic spreads around the world, the situation seems even more dire for the tourism industry, which has been among the industries most affected by the virus.
Britannia Tours managing director Noel Farrugia said tour operators have gone from a very good year in 2019 to zero sales in two months. “As soon as the pandemic began to make its way to Europe and neighboring countries, people simply stopped wanting to go abroad,” he said.
Farrugia said all outgoing tours in the next six months have been canceled. When asked when he expects tour operators to return to former customers, Farrugia said it was difficult to predict, as the situation would depend on a number of other factors.
“It is difficult to establish a timetable. All we know is that we still have a long way to go. It all depends on the vaccine and the restrictions, as well as the clients’ confidence in the choice to travel, ”he said.
Noel Farrugia said he expects the numbers to return to normal in 2022.
“Once the vaccine is out, I think people will be more than happy to go back to their old ways and start venturing out of the country,” he said.
The president of the Federated Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (FATTA), Iain Tonna, told MaltaToday that the return of travel agencies to normalcy is based on the client’s will to choose to travel again.
“The industry was among the first to be carried out, and will be among the last to return to its former state,” he said.
Tonna said that even if a medical vaccine was found late in the summer, the problems would not end there. “If a vaccine is found around September as some reports suggest, it will be even more difficult to retrieve in winter,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty caused by the virus, travel agencies are taking advantage of the situation and are using downtime to disrupt the operation of their business.
Farrugia said Britannia Tours is conducting surveys to identify the needs of its customers. Better investment in online systems was also introduced by the company during the pandemic. “Over the next few months, we have to think differently. It is also a great way to reinvent the way we operate, ”he said.
Farrugia predicted a change in consumption patterns, echoing Iain Tonna’s view that, in the short term, there could be a change in customer demographics. “People who prefer to travel with operators will continue to prefer operators. Now, given the circumstances, people who preferred to travel alone could opt for the simplest and most reliable choice to go abroad with tour operators, “he said.
Nationalist MP and hotelier Robert Arrigo said that if the government succeeds, a return to normality for tour operators will not be possible until 2022. “If we don’t manage to have a long-term vision of how we will respond to medical and economic issues, we risk losing everything we have accomplished so far, ”said Arrigo.
He called on the government to step up support for tour operators, saying they have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. “The fear of the unknown will make you step back, even close, and the government must assure operators that it is there to help them,” he said.
“The more you care about health, the more you have to help industries financially,” he said.