The pandemic has made online travel agencies more dynamic and flexible

A positive effect of the global COVID-19 pandemic is a spirit of reliance permeating the Travel industry. Positivity has become a company-wide matter, changing whole structures and ways of working to be more dynamic and more flexible when faced with difficult situations.

“We had to adapt to the current market situation,” says Per Mohseni, CEO of travel technology group RCG, during a Trustly webinar, “due to the fact that there were a lot of restrictions in place. Suddenly, during the pandemic, the only thing we could work with was the domestic Swedish market and internal local markets in the Nordics. It has been challenging, so we created a structure to handle this. I think our new approach will benefit the company in the future.”

Andreas Elmgren, COO of online travel agency Sembo, agrees. “Being flexible was key and I was initially surprised how well it worked. Everyone  could work from home from day one and we were lucky to have cloud--based solutions for our technical set up. So, from that perspective, the pandemic was quite an easy thing to handle. What we did was to go back to our roots as a self-drive tour operator as we realised no one was gonna fly anywhere on holiday. We began offering car holiday products and that's really what we are now building our future on!”

Many OTAs have seen that customer preferences have changed as a result of the pandemic. Today, there is more prioritisation on flexibility rather than price, with customers nowadays more likely to filter a hotel search on the option of free cancellation before they list hotels by price per night. What’s more, customers want to book their trip via an OTA they trust.

“We see that the demand for flexible products, flexible flexibility over price is important” says Per. “We have created flexible products even if our suppliers don't allow the same degree of flexibility that we do. For example, we now offer different types of insurance because people are demanding it. The way OTAs worked previously was that customers went into a physical shop, they purchased an item, and then they left the shop. Today, I think first of all, an OTA is required to be more involved in the travel patterns of the consumer than we were before. This is a trend that we are seeing – that customers generally require flexibility from us and accessibility to information from us in another way.” 

“I would say you need a flexible organisation adaptable according to travellers’ demand and current restrictions, long-term planning is not possible at the moment,” explains Andreas. “You need to gain consumer confidence by being accessible through all your digital channels and accept what is normal to plan accordingly. Post pandemic for me means that we accept the situation and plan how we can do business in such an environment. The world is in different stages of the pandemic and it will continue to affect our industry for years with different types of restrictions. If restrictions were removed today, leisure travel would snap back to pre-pandemic or even higher levels. And, with that in mind, we should be all optimistic about the future of our industry.”

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