It’s been said that there’s opportunity in crisis, and the travel industry has been presented with a silver lining.

We can shape the way the travel industry works by adapting how we network, and (re)building trade relationships in the new normal, in the countdown to restart.

No one is an island

Have we really brought the #TogetherInTravel sentiment into our businesses? This is a golden opportunity to rebuild the travel trade through cooperation and collaboration. You’ve been looking inwardly to reposition your brand to service a new target market of local travellers seeking post-lockdown experiences. Your next step is to connect your updated offering with trade partners who already serve that market, either by building new relationships or revitalising existing ones.

How else will tour operators and DMCs know the state of operations among accommodation and hospitality suppliers in their destinations? How do agents know what activities and day tours are available, and the best way to sell them in the current climate? With local tourism first to the restarting line, operators, property managers and hospitality services should work together on products that enrich local experiences. Joint marketing of new tourism products and services is also most effective when all partners involved sing from the same hymn sheet.

Make building relationships your business

The world has changed so much since December 2019. We’ve all had to focus on our own businesses to get this far. Now it’s time to reconnect with our trade partners.

Rebuild relationships with existing contacts

Reconnect with key partners to find out exactly what they need and how you can help them. Do they need info, new product content, ideas for new products, lobby support, a joint marketing strategy, or some travel tech TLC?

If you’re a tour operator, you need to connect with destination marketers to learn how destinations have adapted or plan to reconfigure when travel restarts. As a DMC, you need to guide your agents on what products are no longer available and what new offerings to promote instead. Accommodation and hospitality marketers, your safety protocols and new value-adds are vital info to your re-sellers. They depend on you more than ever to ensure their accurate product knowledge. First prize is being able to invite them to your premises before it gets busy; second prize is sharing the info they need in a comprehensive format. Leaving them to assume that nothing has changed when it has, doesn’t help them, yourself or your future guests.

This reconnection will keep the mutual trust you’ve built over the course of your partnerships alive.

Start new relationships virtually

Use this time to identify, befriend and introduce yourself to hospitality and accommodation suppliers, tour operators, DMCs and retail agents that sell your destination – the ones you always meet and exchange business cards with on annual trade shows trips – and forge new partnerships. You have a lot more in common now, sharing the same obstacles and objectives: to innovate solutions around new interests or niches that can help you diversify your product offerings to suit the local market.

In social media, you have a ready-made communication tool with global reach. Tune into conversations within the travel community; form or join online groups and discussion forums. From retailers to operators, everyone deserves a little free love and a boost of their social media analytics; so engage with comments, info and offer your support. It’s a new relationship, so go easy on the quid pro quo. This is how conversations start and the trade rebuilds.

How to rebuild trade relationships

While we can’t knock on doors and shake hands on deals, we can take comfort in the new prevalence of remote working, remote meetings and conferences in virtual boardrooms, with digital project management tools and file sharing in support. Relationships previously built offline can now be rebuilt online.

Mailer marketing

Choose a focus and set up a stream of comms to provide your partners with valuable information. Regular communication says we’re in this together, I need you, and I’ve got your back too.

  • You’ve refreshed your marketing collateral. Share those new-look, customised digital itineraries or new, professional photographs/videos of your property with your loyal clients.
  • Highlight new value-adds, product features or specials. Do a campaign for the ones you’re ready to offer on your own, and another campaign for the ones you want to collaborate on.
  • Send your preferred suppliers fact-finding forms. Ascertain if they’re open for business and to what extent, what USPs, popular activities and services remain available to future guests, and what safety protocols they’ve implemented.
  • Staff changes and reductions are an unfortunate reality of our times. Check that you have up-to-date contact info in your partners’ reservations, operations, product or marketing departments; so that you can react promptly when enquiries start rolling in.

Social media

Building relationships with trade partners calls for a slightly different approach from what you do with the travelling public. Sometimes, just be social. Be professional. But always be strategic!

  • Update your leads lists and systematically make friends, follow, like, share and comment on posts and chats. When the time is right, invite new friends to follow you back with a promise of content they’ll want to see.
  • Where there are travellers seeking inspiration on Facebook, there are travel brands trying to make an impression. Leverage your marketing collateral on your own page, tag and share the spotlight with your partners or invite them to collaborate with you. With Wetu’s Facebook App, you could even embed a digital brochure of your property or activity, or a digital tour itinerary, or host both in a digital catalogue. (NB: Facebook stipulates a following of 2,000 in order to use the app. So get friendly!)
  • Link up with trade partners on LinkedIn. The professional sharing site allows you to target new contacts in the geographical location of your choice. Direct message them an introduction, share a link to your travel content, and suggest how you can help each other. Brands often use LinkedIn Events to promote upcoming business events like online discussion forums and training webinars. Why not host your own online workshops with existing or potential partners?

Virtual trade shows

If necessity is the mother of invention and connection is life, then online networking is the way to go right now. Check out the travel trade shows trending online and let us know – we’d be happy to spread the word and to this wish list covering the North American region, Mexico, Africa, and Australia. These are all opportunities to build relationships – just remember to have an action plan.

  • Compile separate contact lists: of trade partners you must connect with to rebuild existing relationships; and of companies to explore new opportunities with.
  • Get the names of the right people to speak to and send them an introductory email before showtime.
  • Discuss with your team beforehand what products or services you want to collaborate on, and which travel brands you envisage partnering with.
  • Research the destinations you operate in, so that you’re sensitive to conditions on the ground before you go into meetings. If there’s a strong case to lobby government on policy adjustments to facilitate tourism in your destination, then use this opportunity to discuss those issues and generate some peer support.
  • Arrange your one-on-one meetings early to avoid missing out and ensure your video equipment works.
  • Check the programme for keynote speakers from the industry. The challenges that face you, face us all – it serves the entire industry to find solutions and grow together.

If you agree that good business is built on strong relationships, then make building relationships your business. This is how we see the travel industry blossoming out of this crisis a far more cohesive force than before.

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