Travel Industry Focusing on the Positives

ASTA Global Live continued with its second day of educational sessions, marketplace meetings and general sessions in a virtual format. The focus of the conference was largely on a message of positivity and recovery.

Signature Travel Network’s president and CEO Alex Sharpe captured the moment best, saying “crisis creates opportunity.”

Keeping this mantra in mind, panel sessions and one-on-one Q&A sessions largely portrayed an industry hard-hit by the pandemic but looking toward recovery in the future.

Industry representatives came together to present a path to a new normal.

Tom Nealon, president of Southwest Airlines said: “This is incredible what we are going through. Even more unusual is how long it’s going to be. It’s going to be years before it recovers. The industry will look different because it is going to take this long to recover.”

In a Fireside Chat, Amadeus North America’s Bill Moreno about the importance of technology and the human touch and how the two can work together.

“Personal touch is the value you bring,” he said. “We are developing a lot of robotic touchless tech that can handle stuff for you so that you can do what you do best. You should be doing what you are an expert on while letting the everyday routine to be handled by technology. Leverage tech to do the stuff you don’t want to do.”

Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriot, praised ASTA’s advocacy work and shared an optimistic view of the future of the travel industry.

“As we continue to push through, we believe how we conduct business and our relationships with our partners like [travel advisors] are vitally important,” said Sorenson.

He noted that the recovery will be led by younger people and will start in drive destinations, something that is already beginning.

“First we will see more people embrace leisure travel in drive to destinations,” he said. “Followed by domestic air, then international. The return to travel will be led by young people who want to get on with their lives. They are ready. The desire to travel and collect experiences and get together in person is stronger for them now.”

Sorenson also spoke about the transformation of the hotel industry in light of the pandemic, noting new contactless measures such as changes to food and beverage delivery, keyless entry and mask-wearing.

“We can adjust but at the center of what we do must be safety,” he said.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who chairs the Travel and Tourism caucus, also said that travel will return.

“Brighter days are ahead,” said Blunt. “People are going to want to travel again soon and in large numbers.”

Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales support, trade and service, at Royal Caribbean, also spoke during a fireside chat.

Freed noted that the pandemic has given cruise lines the opportunity to push ahead with changes. One big change will be new e-muster drills, sure to be a welcome change for cruise passengers.

One thing that the pandemic has brought about in terms of good change is the need for the travel advisor. People are now craving advice on travel safety, when and where to go and travel advisors are just where they need to turn. Advisors need to make sure people know they are there, ready and armed with the information and expertise they need.

Sharpe noted that education is going to be key in the future.

“There’s going to be some more nuts and bolts,” he said. Health and safety will be at the forefront. We are going to have council advisors on this information It’s not going to be about a product but how you experience the product.”

Freed summed it up best: “Hang in there travel partners. We will be better and stronger in the future.”

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