Chris Thompson of Ballard Down Consulting joined us for MOTEX in April 2020 to provide a prediction of what a post Covid-19 world may look like, and how to prepare. Chris joined us after his webinar presentation to discuss some of his key points.

Premium members of MTN can access the webinar in the MTN Marketplace.

You mentioned that many companies have been quite ‘lazy’ in recent years as they’ve enjoyed a reasonably set of winter seasons especially in terms of snow. Now the future looks so much more challenging, how do you see they need to innovate?

Lazy might be doing them a disservice, but certainly unimaginative. A lot of tour operator activity has (understandably) been focussed around mitigating the impacts of Brexit, with little innovation to products or services.

I think one of the key things that now needs to drive innovation is a better connection with clients. What do clients, and potential new entrants to snow sports or summer Alpine activities actually want?

For me the starting point is using technology to really understand client wants and needs along with the more general demands of the market. That will then lead to relevant innovation.

Using ski as an example, too many ski businesses are run by skiers! There is an assumption that the holiday buying public as a whole values the same things that they do. I don’t believe that’s the case. They need to go looking for new insights.

You indicated sustainability may become a condition of financial support  – we have seen that now with Air France To what extent do you think this should be a key part of travel companies strategy looking forward?

Notwithstanding any government imposed conditions, there is now a great opportunity to hard bake sustainability into a remodelled travel sector. My belief is that enough consumers will demand it to make it a worthwhile investment for any organisation, regardless of any moral arguments.

If companies want to build value as well as make profits I think it will be increasingly important that they can demonstrate that they have a sustainable model. This may limit scale for some, but it should protect margins.

Spa and other health related forms of tourism have been tipped as potential ‘winner’ post Covid-19 as people prioritise their health more than previously. Do you think snow and mountain sports can benefit from this? Will it have an impact on the make up of a typical ski holiday in relation to apres-ski etc?

Absolutely, I think the mountains are incredibly well placed to take advantage of a push towards health related tourism. Mountain resorts usually have great infrastructure for health and relaxation and can promote “wide open spaces” in a way that few other destinations can rival.

I do think though that resorts need to think about the whole holiday experience. To get good occupancies and growing in-resort spend they may need to become less focussed on lift pass revenues as well as really thinking about the character and culture of resorts away from the slopes.

The new normal will mean almost every company will have to ‘think like a start up’. What can they do to help achieve this?

There is a lot of jargon associated with start-ups, particularly in tech where I have spent most of the past 12 months. It’s really pretty simple though and reminds me of when I was first running a business – go back to a blank piece of paper.

  1. Every pound you spend has to benefit the end user or measurably build value
  2. Every person needs to know exactly what their role is and what the expected outputs are
  3. Be curious. Experiment continually … but quickly and cheaply. Swiftly drop the things that don’t work and keep tweaking the ones that do.
  4. Constantly solicit customer feedback and use it every day to get better at what you do
  5. Ignore the norms for the sector
  6. Lastly, you’ll need to fight your fear of failure

The competitive advantages of a holiday in the mountains centre around the ease of social distancing in mountain areas and the attraction of fresh air and open spaces. What are the competitive disadvantages our industry faces?

The main disadvantage for travel is that to consume it you need to go somewhere else! One could argue for virtual experiences as an opportunity, but monetising that at any kind of volume seems tricky to me – I’d love to hear of anyone that has nailed it though.

Outside the winter I think the mountains have also failed to build loyal repeat business. This needs tackling.

How can travel companies use this time most wisely to communicate with customers?

For some at the moment almost any contact would be better than their complete radio silence. Communications need to be personal, human and helpful.

What are travellers dreaming about, what do they take comfort from, what might they like information about? Think about your customers and open a dialogue through as many channels as possible that makes them feel connected to you, your destinations and your team.

Without trying to flog them stuff!

You foresee a flight to quality in general terms, specifically who do you think will be the winners and losers?

I see the winners as organisations catering to a clearly defined niche (or niches) and offering value. Unless you are huge then chasing volume is going to be very hard work.

Try and take an honest look at your offering from a distance. Will someone coming across you for the first time be able to quickly say, “Ah great, these guys do xxxx and it looks to be just what I’m after”. The “xxxx” can’t be something generic that they can find on half a dozen competitor sites with a two minute google search.

As search terms may change in the near future, would cutting back on SEO and PPC spend and advice be a false economy for many?

The direct ad spend probably needs to be trimmed right now unless you are in the fortunate position of seeing profitable conversions. I’d caution against trimming spend on external advice too quickly though. Unless your internal team is very adept it’s likely that you’ll need help understanding emerging trends and how best to capitalise on them.

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