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Where do we go from here? Travelport CEO Greg Webb gives his take on the road to recovery

June 10, 2020
Greg Webb
Greg Webb, CEO

The travel industry has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic on a scale that we have never seen before. Over the past few months, all of us working in travel have been asking the same questions: when will this end, how can we recover, and what does the future of travel look like?

Nobody can predict how long this crisis will last. However, I can share my thoughts with you on what recovery might look like, and what I think we need to prioritize to support a strong travel industry when we come out on the other side.

Glimmers of hope are appearing

There’s a well-known saying that goes: ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. I think that’s a good analogy for how our recovery journey might start out.

We’ve spent months at home, hearing disappointing news about how the pandemic is unfolding across the globe, and its impact on our industry. This may make the complexities and the mechanics of recovery seem overwhelming or unfathomable. But glimmers of hope are already appearing, and I think that those first, tentative steps on the road to recovery are happening now.

Airlines have given dates for when they plan to put more planes in the skies. Hotel occupancy rates in some regions are showing encouraging signs of improvement. Governments and municipalities are starting to ease lockdowns, plus the associated travel restrictions are easing as well. The WTTC recently released a set of safety protocols for the new normal, which should also help to accelerate recover.

Another positive we’ve seen in the US was the stimulus package delivered by the CARES act, which threw a lifeline to countless airlines and travel businesses. This is something I’m proud to say that Travelport was heavily involved in getting it over the line.

Who will travel first?

One of the ongoing debates around recovery is whether business or leisure travel is likely to return first. It might come as a surprise to some that leisure is actually the stronger contender from my perspective.

Corporations that are facing financial crisis are likely to cut into their appetite for travel that’s not business critical. And with many people working from home efficiently, business travel is an avoidable expense for the short term. Organizations are generally risk-averse and are likely to err on the side of caution when it comes to employee safety and duty of care. This is likely to be the case while we establish the new safety protocols needed to restore confidence in business travelers. Make no mistake... business travel will rebound. We will always see the need for face-to-face to make commerce happen into the future – as it always has up to this point.  Life is built and business is built on relationships and that is driven by human contact.

Still, leisure travel, on the other hand, has different drivers. There’s pent up demand from people who want to go to see family and friends, or even just to return home from trips they got stuck on when lockdown measures were introduced. Leisure travel isn’t dictated by company policy, nor constrained by a budget that you have no control over.

It’s also within the leisure traveler’s control on both where they go, and when. Domestic travel is the subset of leisure likely to return fastest, with people taking ‘staycations’ in their home country, where they feel safe and have the best insight on the level of risk. For this reason, airlines like Southwest, for example, who just became a full GDS participant with Travelport, stand to recover faster by leveraging the domestic travel recovery trend.

The travel industry is no stranger to disruption and is incredibly resilient. It will recover. Business travelers will return to visiting customers, and leisure travelers will find that urge to explore. Life is, after all, an adventure. It’s therefore imperative that we not only do what we can to support the industry today, but ready ourselves to support a strong industry recovery in the future.

The travel industry is no stranger to disruption and is incredibly resilient. It will recover.

Emerging stronger than ever

Post COVID-19, we believe that the travel industry will continue to experience rapid change. Here are three core areas that I think will be instrumental in preparing for the future of travel.

Before this crisis began, Travelport started work on our new platform, and we remain on track with its development. We’re keeping these same three priorities front of mind as we move forward into recovery. Those are:

1. Multi-Source Content
As an industry, we need to ensure we can ingest, normalize and deliver access to a wide variety of content types — whatever the source.

2. Retailing excellence
Going forward, we will see a further push to enable buying and selling of travel offers through next-generation tools, creating an environment of easy up- and cross-sell, and using flexible and customizable displays.

3. Maximizing the value of every trip
To return to growth, travel sellers will need to grow revenue, or to reduce the costs required to serve at every point across the trip.

I am convinced that the broader marketplace is going to see our next generation platform as an industry changer. It’s also a concrete step toward simpler, more collaborative ways of working together.

Stay tuned on this, I’m going to share a lot more about it very soon. 

How is Travelport supporting customers through recovery?

As we all start down the road to recovery,  I can assure you that Travelport is doing — and will continue to do — everything we can to support our customers as they navigate their way through this period of uncertainty.

In addition to our contribution towards the CARES act, Travelport has provided strategic support through frequent communication, using a variety of channels:

  • We were the first travel technology company to launch and maintain a COVID-19 resource hub. It’s a useful source of information on airline, hotel and car policies, links to support services and guides on the best way to use technology during the crisis. There are also interactive tools to stay informed about lockdowns, quarantine measures, flight restrictions, and school closures. We’ll continue to update this with new information for our thousands of visitors, who are now starting to refocus from crisis management to market recovery.
  • We are also holding virtual meetings with our partners, where we discuss their individual needs and challenges. During these ‘consultancy sessions’ we look at the most recent data patterns, and advise how our partners can use this information to more effectively operate, using our technology. This helps them to ensure business continuity and a strong platform for recovery.
  • We just launched our new website, which we had in development before the crisis began. It has a market-leading look and feel, providing a greatly improved experience for our customers through simpler navigation, and delivers the most relevant content at a time when supporting our customers is paramount. It has enabled us to better communicate during the pandemic, and will continue to be where we share other insights and news to our partners and customers. Whatever your role is in the travel ecosystem, this is a great source of information on how Travelport's solutions can add value for your business.

Travelport is more focused than ever on making buying and selling travel smoother and more user-friendly. By keeping retail and content coupled with value at the heart of everything we do, we believe we can deliver a platform that creates more value from every trip. This drives revenue for supply and demand, as well as value for travelers, through recovery and beyond. 

And as travel starts to get back up and running, we’ll be here.

COVID-19 hub

If you’d like more helpful information on how to navigate through the current emergency, please visit our COVID-19 hub.