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Reply To: Hi Travel & Business Experts!I have a boutique travel agency in Australia and expanded into New Zealand about 8 months ago – I am based in New Zealand. Due to the nature of COVID-19, I have lost all business (income) until at least December 2020. I still have a few inquiries coming through for next year, but certainly not at capacity of what I am used to.. My people (Clients) are uncertain about future travel at this time because of the issues that have come up with cancellation terms and conditions through airlines/suppliers, time-due of refunds, which for most of my AU database, is upwards of 9 months, and with these changing every day, and insurance not covering, they are not confident in placing funds down.. What I am thinking of doing, is posting some ‘pre-registration’ options for some holidays for 2021. I am thinking of basing these packages on the usual travel spots, inc; Bali, Fiji, New Zealand. I am then thinking of contacting Intrepid / Scenic / Royal, to start working on some deals for next year. I was just wondering if anyone can please advise me on the best way to do this and if I even should do it? How should I notify my people of these awesome 2021 programs I can create? How much do I charge for a ‘pre-reg’ deposit – to ensure a financial commitment? What should my rules around this be?Any assistance here would be greatly appreciated. I am trying my best to stay positive, but with all income down the drain, I am just as nervous as my clients are around where the industry is heading.. Thanks in advance, Soleil

Morena Soleil – firstly, good on you for thinking about what next and what you can do. Many people are using the time to work out what next and how to plan with the levels of uncertainty. A couple ideas, and then I will jump into your specific questions. (1) past customers – do you have relationships with them, can you connect with them and see if you can help them ‘plan’ for a trip in the future, ask them when we have more certainty (and maybe there has been a gap) would they like to travel and ‘where’ – the idea here is the people who have worked with you in the past will know you, they will hopefully like what they received and that means you have to do less work to get them as potential future revenue (2) for the wider market of potential customers, I would think about how you can build an engagement with people who might still be interested in travelling post Covid-19, what can you do to help them work out where they might want to go, what options – this is about building your brand with your potential customers to choose you when they are ready, my sense is that I would not be trying to close people in this phase, this is more about you engaging, adding value and helping your market actually have hope and plan for the future. (3) on the question of ‘should I charge them a deposit’ – this is challenging, because you need to find ways to live, and keep the business going but also there is much uncertainty in the market that it is very difficult to ‘plan with certainty’ – albeit, here’s a thing, if you could actually secure epic deals from your suppliers eg. hotels for pre-bookings then you could pass these onto your customers and that might be a way to secure some deposits – just be careful about the ‘lock-down’ and when this will finish, and also the ‘trust account’ philosophy of holding your customers moneys for their trips – now lets have a look at your other questions. (4) how do you notify people of these packages you have secured? Talk to your past customers, they might be interested, build up some profile on Facebook, Instagram – mabye we can get some Facebook people to give some guidance on how to do this ‘hacker style’ ie with little funds – but I would say, you need to build the audience you can talk too – and maybe you need to find out ‘what might be the profile’ of people who would be willing to plan for a trip in 2021 now, because if you understood who these people were you could work with the Facebook services to go and find more of those people (5) How much do you charge for pre-registration to ensure commitment? I am not sure what happens in tourism, for my Icehouse business we charge somewhere like 15-25% if it is a long way out – does 10-20% sound reasonable? (6) Rules around this – as I said above, when you take other people’s money you have to be really careful about that customer money ending up in the same pool of money as you have to run the business, there are trust account rules in other industries, and I am sure the same thing applies for tourism, it is their money, not yours until they do the trip, so keep it in a separate account that you cannot access for the day-to-day business costs.

The final thing is – you have clearly experienced the pain of your business stopping, that is hard, but you also must not lose hope, you need to keep doing what you are doing to ask questions, to uncover where there might be future business. Remember lots of people will also be thinking about this right now in the tourism market – so think about your point of difference, and how you can amplify that up – and be ready for when normality comes back given how impacted tourism has been and will be around travel movements.

Thanking you for having the courage to share – Nga Mihi – Andy