Flexible and agile agreements: how youth travel accommodation providers are facing the future of travel
Flexibility has always been indispensable when in the travel and hospitality industry, and even more so during a pandemic. Since the onset of COVID-19, organisations serving youth travellers have had to make many changes to the operation of their business in order to navigate travel bans, borders closing, visa restrictions, new health and safety regulations and rapidly changing restrictions.
In March, WYSE Travel Confederation’s COVID-19 Travel Business Impact Survey reported that one of the top actions taken by youth travel organisations was to modify cancellation policies and terms and conditions.
For the youth travel accommodation sector, the new reality has meant a decline in occupancy, dealing with cancellations and refund vouchers, limited operations and strict hygiene and social distancing rules. The first step for many operators was to ensure the safety of both guests and staff by implementing new protocols, such as contactless check-in and sanitisation stations. In order to support the sector, WYSE Travel Confederation created a safe accommodation self-declaration for accommodation providers to demonstrate to guests and partners that they adhere to local and national health guidelines. More than 70,000 beds in hostels, bed & breakfasts, budget hotels and student accommodation are now represented by this initiative.
With uncertainty about travel restrictions continuing and a second wave of Coronavirus looming in Europe, accommodation providers have also had to make changes to their booking conditions to allow for a greater degree of flexibility. We spoke to hostel group and WYSE Travel Confederation member St Christopher’s Inns to understand the measures that they have put in place when it comes to flexible and agile agreements:
For groups and tour agents
- We updated our T&Cs in June for groups to be more flexible with free cancellations in case of new travel restrictions imposed by the countries (of origin and destination), so that any prepayments can be used as credit for future bookings or refund if the groups aren’t looking to travel at all. We also reduced the deposit payment which was 50% and now it’s only 10%.
- For bookings cancelled before the T&Cs update, we’ve been doing our best to be flexible and give our groups the opportunity to change their dates entirely and use the full payment into the new booking, which has been much appreciated by the groups and agents we work with.
- ‘Focus on all offers’ is the update to our T&Cs + Group meal discounts/offers for bookings until May 2021. We’re also giving an even more personalised treatment to all groups, listening to their concerns and going the extra mile for them to keep the booking process the easiest possible.
For individual travellers
- We changed basic cancellation policy to one day free cancellation. We feel this gives the guests more flexibility in the current market and also gives them more confidence to book. We also set up some mobile deals as a good proportion of our bookings were made over mobile which gives you a “mobile discount” banner on most 3rd party OTAs boosting our visibility. Boosting visibility and flexibility have been our primary targets due to the unpredictability of the market.
- I feel we will need to continue to use flexible booking conditions throughout 2021 as it is impossible to predict what will happen with COVID-19 restrictions. There have been so many cancelled flights and last-minute changes to travel restrictions that consumer confidence in the travel industry has taken a serious hit and flexibility will be key to getting that back.
We also contacted Hostelworld for comment on their best practices in regard to flexible booking conditions:
The two key changes we’ve implemented in recent months were with both the customer and the hostels in mind. We made our Free Cancellation rate even more flexible for our collective customers, now allowing them to cancel their stay up to one day ahead of their arrival depending on the hostel’s cancellation policy. We also communicated how important this level of flexibility is with the hostels on the back of consumer insights in our joint industry survey carried out in July.
Secondly, we launched a new Flexible Non-Refundable Rate which is the cheapest customer option that also allows some flexibility, as customers can change their dates by contacting the hostel to let them know. This rate in particular was developed to stimulate some much needed cash flow for the hostels in the early months of the crisis. The customer could book now, for the future, so even when nobody was travelling we were still generating future bookings for our hostel partners. We also applied a 5% discount to the commission on these bookings for the hostels for an initial two month period.
Since March 2020, WYSE Travel Confederation’s COVID-19 Travel Business Impact series has been looking into the effects of the Coronavirus on the youth travel industry. Now the 6-month report The Youth Travel Industry and COVID-19 provides a wider context for the period March – August 2020, illustrating trends in demands, actions and top concerns, forecasts and more.
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