Web-conferencing and instant messaging tools are seeing greater usage among travel and tourism trade players who are determined to keep business dialogue alive as the appeal of face-to-face meetings diminish against a backdrop of Covid-19 infection fears.
Sheryl Lim, founder of Singapore-based travel agency Travel Wander, found herself turning to online presentations to keep her regular clientele informed on new adventure tours and destinations as well as reach out to potential new customers.
“Our usual marketing efforts involve conducting product presentations at specific venues but as soon as Covid-19 happened, people started to refrain from going out or meeting other people,” Lim recalled.
“We were in a fix because as a small company, we cannot stop moving and must keep up our marketing efforts. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes, so we must maintain contact with our customers and the marketplace now so that when travel confidence returns, they will consider Travel Wander for their travel planning.”
With print or radio ads priced out of her budget, she turned to web-conferencing tools.
“The travel planning business is a very personal one, where clients prefer meeting face-to-face. But the pandemic has presented us with an unusual situation, and webinars are a good solution that enables us to keep up with sales and marketing communications,” she said.
Travel Wander conducted its first presentation two weeks ago, focusing on the joy of active holidays. The content, delivered through slides and a narration, explained what active holidays were all about, and dispelled myths around such tours. Six people attended it. A week later, a webinar on Sarawak drew 10 people.
Lim has planned a third on Kazakhstan this week, and aims to conduct a weekly session and is working on improving the format to facilitate conversations. The webinars are promoted to regular clients who then spread the word within their social circle.
The product webinars have allowed Lim to determine which destinations were more popular, based on webinar sign-up performance.
For other travel companies that are already utilising web-conferencing, the current pandemic has underscored the value of this mode of communications.
Adam Kamal, general manager of Malaysia’s Suka Travel, said his team is now working remotely from home, relying on WhatsApp video conferencing to address urgent matters, on top of their usual web-conferences with overseas suppliers and outstation agents.
The remote work arrangement was necessary as the government had on Monday evening issued an order to temporarily shutter businesses and restrict movement to fight against Covid-19.
Adam said he introduced and encouraged web-conferencing when he joined the agency last November, and applauded the convenience and cost savings it offers.
“Web-conferencing allows our partners to pull up documents, charts and pictures as they speak. (It also) saves time and costs as we can do meetings virtually. If it were face-to-face meetings, we would have to rent space to hold a seminar and pay for light refreshments,” he said.
Bayu Buana Travel Services Indonesia, which now has 50 per cent of its staff working from home, is encouraging continued reliance on web-conferencing tools to keep dialogues open with airline partners and clients during these trying times.
Agustinus Pake Seko, president director of Bayu Buana Travel Services Indonesia, said his team is familiar with web-conferencing, as there are regular online global meetings with BCD Travel, which the company is part of.
Laurens van den Oever, CMO at research firm ForwardKeys, opined that the “one good thing to come out of the coronavirus” is the emphasis on the value of “how to be savvier with our digital offerings, such as travel alerts, impact reports and newsletters”.
“In every business, you need to invest in the necessary tools and equipment for your team. Different time zones, cultural barriers, epidemics and pandemics should not impede the running of your business nor throw you into the Dark Ages,” Oever said.
The ForwardKeys team relies on a suite of communication services, such as Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp and webinars/web information sessions for internal interaction, and Zoom mostly by its analysts to connect with external clients.
“These have helped us a lot (in maintaining business communications, especially now) with all the travel limitations and tradeshow cancellations due to the (outbreak),” he added. – Additional reporting by S Puvaneswary and Mimi Hudoyo