Over the first half of this year, the travel sector has inched cautiously closer to ‘recovery mode’. During this time, alongside our clients and partners in the travel sector, we’ve been trying to make sense of the devastating impact of COVID-19. On the sector as a whole, on payments leaders and their teams – and on the future.
And that’s taken the form of our #trustlytravelinsights series. Three in-depth reports designed to provide clarity, reflection and practical recommendations for the recovery.
We recently published the third and final report in the series – ‘A Future to Bank On’. As with the first two reports in the series (‘Rebound or Rehabilitation’, Feb-21 and ‘Payments in a Pandemic’, Mar-21), this concluding chapter draws on a combination of sources. Findings from our proprietary surveys of 450 payments leaders in European airlines and OTAs. Contributions from our partners within the payments ecosystem. Interviews with leading industry experts. And input from our own subject and sector experts.
And there’s a lot to unpack.
That’s why myself and three colleagues from the Trustly team are taking a look at different elements of the report. Dipping into the topics and issues that most resonated with us, and sharing that with you.
For me, there are three articles I wanted to spotlight.
First is ‘Out of the shadows’ (p 18). One of the themes, unsurprisingly, that we’ve covered across the series is that of costs. We’re all too aware of the direct financial impact of COVID-19 on the travel sector – a $126.4bn predicted net loss for airlines in 2020, and a $220bn increase in the industry’s debt burden over the same period1 are just two examples of why cost pressures came into such sharp focus. And with IATA forecasting net airline industry losses of $47.7bn for 20212, these pressures are unlikely to fully subside in the name of a recovery.
In this time of heightened cost pressure, the pandemic has shone a light on one area in particular – the hidden costs of payments. While the direct, known costs of payments such as interchange fees and merchant fees are visible and, undoubtedly, subject to ongoing scrutiny (especially in light of Mastercard’s ill-timed interchange fee increase announcement3), the true costs of payments has been somewhat opaque.
As a consequence of the pandemic, however, issues such as settlement delays, reserve requirements, vouchering, refunds, chargebacks – and the processing costs and fees associated with the latter in particular – have become Board-level concerns. This article, sharing data from our survey, is a must-read for those facing greater scrutiny from their CFOs – and poses five key questions for payments executives to challenge themselves and their teams.
Second is ‘Looking to the future’ (p 23). Here, we provide something of a counter-balance. Undoubtedly, strong cost-management and ongoing cost-reduction efforts are key to rebuilding financial health – and they should indeed continue within the payments arena. But a cost mindset can only get you so far.
Encouragingly, our research reveals that payments leaders are adopting a more strategic, commercial and value-oriented focus for 2021 and beyond. In this article, we break down the future priorities for payments leaders, followed by a data dashboard which provides an analysis of the data, highlighting the disparities between airlines and OTAs, and by country.
Third is my own article, ‘Coverage and beyond – travel’s payment ‘must haves’ (p 38). Here, I address two interrelated issues. First, as merchants seek the cost-efficiency, consumer appeal and security benefits of new payment methods, coverage will have a critical impact on conversion, and cannot be underestimated.
Second, API-only services – despite being touted as an ‘easy’ solution by aggregators – are, in reality, no panacea. Travel merchants have a wider set of ‘must haves’ for payments solutions to meet the demands of a stringent business case, and these services typically fall short in three areas: comparable coverage, a lack of contingency, and a restricted proposition.
For payment executives looking to diversify their payments portfolio away from cards (a high priority for 53% of merchants, according to our survey4), and for those looking to ensure payment methods align with local market preferences – this is an important read as you formulate a strategy.
If you’ve not already received a copy of the report, you can download yours here. I hope you find these articles useful – my colleague Ciaran O’Malley’s blog follows next, adding commentary to his stand-out pieces and providing another perspective on the report.