What was the biggest impact of COVID-19? What have we learned from the pandemic so far? What is in store for us? Alex Metzler, Co-Founder and CFO of Enchanting Travels, answers all of these questions and more.
Alex Metzler, Co-Founder and CFO of Enchanting Travels, deals with all the difficult questions about travel and the coronavirus pandemic this year.
What was the pandemic’s greatest impact on enchanting trips?
Obviously, the corona pandemic was the biggest shock to our company and the entire travel industry that anyone can remember.
Due to the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, we have practically no longer been able to travel long distances since March. To counteract this, we have started to develop our short-haul product. New destinations like Iceland and Greece have proven to be relatively popular and have allowed us to resume business. In the coming months we will continue to develop our short haul portfolio to include destinations such as Portugal, Italy and Russia.
As part of the Travelopia group and the strong growth that Enchanting Travels has seen over the past 15 years, the company is well positioned to weather the crisis.
As you mentioned earlier, long haul travel has practically stalled. How does Enchanting Travels currently work as a travel company?
Enchanting Travels has always been a very flexible, digital company with team members all over the world. Most of our video conferences have participants from at least four different time zones!
When the pandemic first started, all hands were on deck taking our guests home. Thanks to the efforts of our employees and partners on site, we were able to bring all of our guests back in the shortest possible time – within a few days. Our trip concierge service offers guests round-the-clock support and made a real difference for our guests during the initial period of crisis.
We then turned our attention to customers who had booked a trip for this year. We have close relationships with many of our guests. In combination with very flexible booking conditions, we were able to achieve around 75% newly planned bookings for the next year – which is probably an industry record.
Many of our destinations are still subject to travel warnings, which is why we have turned away from traditional sales and turned more towards interaction and contact with our guests. In the third quarter of this year we were able to reach almost 2500 guests – of whom about 1/3 are regular guests – directly and gain valuable knowledge from this contact. For example, we learned that around 25% would like to plan their trip again as soon as possible or by the end of the year. We also learned that the two most important factors our guests should consider when deciding whether to book or not are flexible cancellation policy and destination security – elements that we benefit from through our coverage insurance, 24-hour concierge service, Covering improved hygiene and safety protocols and flexi booking options.
The pandemic has also forced us to create an almost 100% home office system. This was actually a relatively small challenge as Enchanting Travels has always been a very flexible, digital company with team members all over the world. Most of our video conferences have participants from at least four different time zones!
We were also increasingly involved in projects within the Travelopia group. Enchanting Travels recently acquired the tour operating business for bespoke UK travel brand Hayes & Jarvis. And as already mentioned, we are also expanding our short-haul portfolio so that the team is well staffed.
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Do you see any recovery in the near future?
As long as there is no vaccination or effective treatment against Corona, we must expect potential travelers to hesitate to book or make more last minute bookings. On the positive side, there will be pent-up demand once travel restrictions are lifted and airlines resume services. We expect 2021 to be a year of gradual normalization.
In our segment of tailor-made high-end travel, good growth rates are expected to be recorded from the 2022 financial year. As a company, Enchanting Travels expects to be back on a good growth path by 2022.
What long-term impact do you think the pandemic will have on travel and the travel industry in general?
As we have already seen, some tour operators and many travel agencies have already had to shut down. More tourism companies will be forced to leave the market by the end of 2020. In the medium term, business travel is likely to be severely affected as people get used to video conferencing and digital meetings.
In contrast, I think the popularity of the domestic and short haul vacation travel promoted by the pandemic is a trend that we are likely to continue for the next two or three years as travelers around the world choose to get closer to it to stay in their place of residence.
For tour operators in particular, security, flexibility and trust play an increasingly important role in the selection of potential customers, where and with whom they are traveling. This idea was confirmed by data from our guest survey: For about 1/3 of our guests, service was the most important element why they chose Enchanting Travels. Just over 8% said the value for money was the main reason they chose us. When trips are harder to plan, this is a great opportunity for experts and service minded companies like ours to show their worth.
What have you personally and as an entrepreneur learned from the crisis so far?
As already mentioned, customer service and good care of our guests has become even more important. Being agile and flexible as a company has also become critical. We have to build to adapt, not just to last.
Personally, in difficult times, I find it more important than ever to maintain a positive spirit and not to forget our sense of empathy and humanity.
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