How will Covid-19 change Lao tourism? Laurent Granier, Co-founder & General Manager Laos Mood Travel raises interesting issues.
How will your business operations change in the post-Covid era?
If we learn nothing from this pandemic and its consequences, we are a wasted society. Of course, our way of conducting business is inevitably changed, and it will keep evolving. Currently, we tend to chase more agents and stimulate them to consider Laos, and give us a chance. Presently, we lead more in (creating) demand than we are led by demand.
We already anticipate some stress for more hygienically safe services and experiences. For example: ill guides and drivers need to wear masks? Will the presence of a sanitizer in a van be more important than a fire extinguisher? Will people still want to fly domestically?
We also have to consider payment methods. Today, more than ever, we cannot afford to give credit (to agents). What happens, in a bad moment (like a pandemic), if you do not get paid? We are not meant to be a bank, giving credit. We cannot be put under pressure by agents who pay late.
Credit may suddenly disappear because clearly, being on the other side of their chain, we are the last ones paid. Do airlines give credit? Do you pay for your return ticket at the check-in counter? You know the answer is “No.” So, why would we, DMCs, be the one supporting credit lines? Do the guests/travellers know that we have not been paid? Are (agents) transparent to their travellers on this matter?
Lots of questions are still under consideration, and the answers will be conditioned on how we do business in the close future. Living is about making choices.
Will there be a change in direct bookings vs. travel agents?
I have spotted debates on travel discussion groups about the relevancy of outbound travel agents. Will travellers book direct for the best deals? Are agents still needed?
I genuinely feel that agents have a role to play in the future of travel. At Laos Mood Travel, we handle both B2B and B2C clientele. During the tough times of repatriations, guests handled by agents were a lot more relaxed and better treated.
It is a tough battle to persuade direct clients to stop their holidays, buy new tickets, and return home, or they will be trapped in the country. People who have experienced bad times using travel agent services, will reconsider the welfare and benefits on offer.
Also, most people do not understand that Laos plays globally. If we are driven by rates, we run to failure. We evolve in a very competitive environment. There will always be someone ready to slash your program by $5 to get your business. We hardly disclose anything online. Laos Mood’s strategy is not to invest in B2C. We leave this to some partners who do it for us.
We simply drive production, sales and operation. Not marketing. Doing marketing seriously at a high level implies skills, finances and human resources we do not possess. The nature of the product offer in Laos is not made to be discounted. B2B-wise, we keep our value for ourselves and share it one-on-one directly with targeted agents.
Big brands and large chains may benefit from the return of travellers first. They have the power to work on hygiene standards and communicate about it. However, part of the clientele may wish to support more independent properties, unless price is their sole motivation.
For us, we will need to educate and inform our B2C and B2B buyers on the new concerns about safety and hygiene. Whoever leads this will benefit right away.
Will Covid-19 effect sustainable tourism and how?
This is a double-sided topic. We may unfortunately realize that sustainable tourism is a significant matter when times are favourable. When we face adverse times, demand for sustainable tourism may tend to slip and even be completely ignored.
The reflex for a good deal of our agents and their clients was to immediately claim full refunds. Agents pointed to European or whatever laws that supposedly entitle them to all their money back.
But how do they treat us as a destination outside of their geographical scope? This (refunds) was definitely a “survival instinct” – driven by fear – fear of losing a client. They completely sidestepped their ‘sustainable commitments” by not considering people at the other side of the chain in the destinations. I genuinely feel that we are the forgotten and neglected link of this loop.
At the opposite end, this also be a great opportunity to accelerate the implementation of sustainable tourism measures that can become the new norm. For a while, we feel less under operational pressure, and it may leave time to adjust certain practices, and return better and stronger.
Will access return to normal?
Of course, we are subject to the opening of borders, both overland and by air. Assuming that Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse international airports run “normally”, and that a few overland crossings are still possible, then we should be reasonably OK to operate close to our pre Covid-19 lock down.
What worries me the most is the frequency and cost of travel to access Laos. Laos is dependent on major regional airlines to bring in customers. We think of Vietnam Airlines and Thai Airways. When will flights resume? At what cost? Just before the lock down, we had already experienced many route closings. These are not good signs. I am afraid the situation will not return to levels with plenty of choices.
Will Laos welcome more luxury or mid-range travellers?
As far as Laos Mood is concerned, I feel that the 3-stars and great 4-stars will be the winners. Those 5-stars that offer the most value for money will be able to restart faster too. Not just with rates, but also conditions-wise. Flexibility needs to be the key. We have already experienced this with special requests. It also depends on how you differentiate luxury and mid-range. To Laos Mood, luxury is more defined by local experiences…the “money can’t buy” ones. This is widespread to all segments of clientele from entry price accommodation to ultra-deluxe properties, because we care for all our guests the same.
*These responses do not necessarily reflect We Are Lao’s opinion, nor those of our members.