Chief Operating Officer | John Hall's Alaska
Elizabeth Hall was raised in the industry, traveling the country with her family in a motorcoach, alongside her father's tour groups. "I am the product of a father who didn't know what to do with a little girl except take her to the bus garage, tour office and fishing with my brothers." When the travel industry came to a standstill after 9/11, John Sr. laid off his entire staff and gave his high school student daughter a part-time, temporary (she thought) clerical and data entry gig. She stayed, climbed the ladder and, in 2011, became Chief Operating Officer, overseeing all tour operations.
Access to data and demand for travel apps and features at travelers' fingertips. They're increasingly comfortable with technology once they familiarize themselves, demanding more of it from organizations. It's impacted our travelers and staff. With technology updates, we give staff more power and access to helpful information while traveling with guests. Our staff was thrown into working from home. Conversations are extremely important to client relationships. Essentially embracing overnight working remotely with laptops and cellphones took getting used to. I see the trend continuing for us.
The greatest challenge is the unknown. Travel will return, but how many companies will survive this financial hardship? How long will it last? When can we return to operations? Will there be restrictions? What will customers feel safe and comfortable with?
How can we relay safety and health priorities? Tour operators remain optimistic, yet it's challenging to relay how we intend to keep visitors safe and return their trust in travel. Most clients are eager to plan and willing to postpone, looking forward to a travel date. Due to contracts, payments and other operations, tour operators are obligated to fund a certain amount of trip experiences. Many partners opted to hold those funds and amend contacts versus penalize for the cancellation or change due to travel restrictions. In the interim, tour operators must issue deposit or full-trip refunds to promote the positive experience with clients—maintaining our brand reputation and vision in the industry while creating stress on cash flow.
Travel is going to change, bringing creative and unique experiences. Airline and convenient or fast-paced travel will be less common, allowing more travel to remain in the U.S. and on motorcoaches. Consumers will return to using vacation and extended time with families, not quick weekends. Being quarantined will shed light on how valuable family time is, causing consumers to slow down and enjoy travel. I have a great hope for opportunity and demand to support locally owned, small, or multigenerational businesses—motorcoach organizations, hotels, B&Bs, independently owned restaurants. People will embrace what's offered close to home.
Get involved in industry events— networking, associations, committees, boards— putting your image and the company's in people's minds. Tourism is a small industry. Everyone seems connected. One person could introduce you to a whole new group of individuals. Share your voice! You're never too young or new. Change comes from fresh ideas, minds and perspectives.
Never get too busy to focus on your business. If you're spread too thin, the business will be first to suffer. Don't lose sight of promises to yourself. We give everything to our families, businesses, associations, and volunteering, but need time away to refresh, reset, and return with fresh perspectives. The human brain needs and deserves a break. Please give it one.
WHEN TRAVEL OPENS UP
Associations are working on industry expectations to keep consumers safe and healthy and reassure their confidence. Motorcoach companies will look for accessibility to products to keep coaches clean and safe. Certain materials and items are limited to consumers and on substantial backorder. Having access to them will be key to safe, successful operations.
Written by Amy L Charles, Editoral Director for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the July/Aug 2020 issue of Groups Today.