How Tour Operators Can Prepare For Imminent 'Travel Bubbles'

Frida Kops   ● 9 min read
This article forms part of a weekly newsletter series that’s sent directly to travel industry professionals every Friday.
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With the rise of the “travel bubble” the speed of recovery will be uneven. Those countries with low cases of covid-19 or that acted quickly to reduce the spread of the pandemic may open up cross-border travel with other countries of like. Who gets to welcome visitors first? Who will the first visitors be? I explore whether health and safety are the only deciding factors.

Let’s get started.

Here's this week's roundup:

Vietnam Races Ahead of Other Southeast Asian Countries in Tourism Reopening

Source: Skift

With a population of more than 95 million people, Vietnam has only 288 covid-19 cases and zero fatalities as of week ending 15 May 2020.

Whilst other Southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines are in lockdown, Vietnam is bouncing back already thanks to the country’s early measures to gain control over the virus spread.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Domestic flights are operating
  • Restaurants, retail shops, bus and train services are open and running
  • Several manufacturing companies have shifted to Vietnam from China
  • Some international flights may be resumed in June 2020.
  • Negotiations on reciprocal travel agreements (“travel bubbles”) with China and South Korea which will allow citizens free movement without quarantine between these countries.
  • If travel bubbles prove successful with China and South Korea, then this might be extended to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan.

A travel bubble between Vietnam, China and South Korea is a high priority for Vietnam due to 55% of Vietnam’s tourism coming from these countries.

Kenneth Atkinson, vice chairman of Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board, is positive about the negotiations’ outcome, but also recognises possible challenges. For example, Shanghai has contained the virus, but how can they be certain that all arriving passengers flying from Shanghai are residents and not visitors having been elsewhere? The uncertainty with the second wave of the virus is another possible threat.


If negotiations are successful, Vietnam will race ahead of Thailand whose tourism traffic also largely comes from China and South Korea.

In theory these travel bubbles make sense, but I have my reservations. They are hugely based on trust, a level playing field and agreements that are made free from political pressure. Do you think travel bubbles can exist without becoming entrenched in political issues?

Read the full article here.

Can a Hygiene Certification For Tours and Activities Reassure Nervous Travellers?

Source: Tourpreneur

How can we make customers feel at ease so they start booking again?

That seems to be the burning question I’ve heard this week.

In a new normal, hygiene standards will be a priority for all travellers.

So with that in mind Jon Peahl, Founder and President of SanSee, offers one approach in this podcast interview – to introduce a uniform hygiene standard for tour operator businesses.

SanSee launched 2 weeks ago having seen a gap in the tours & activities sector for a unified health and safety rating. Currently this segment of the travel industry is not heavily regulated like hotels, restaurants and cruise ships.

In this Tourpreneur podcast, Peahl explains the process of certification, which is performed largely over the phone. Tour operator businesses complete a tailored questionnaire, submit supporting evidence and upon successful evaluation, receive the Sansee Shield certification. Assets are provided for website and social media use.

There is no question that there is a tremendous need to inspire travellers and bring peace of mind in order to stimulate travel again. Sansee’s mission has the great potential to do this.

Do you think a uniform health and safety certification for the tours & activities sector has teeth to make your customers feel at ease?

Listen to the podcast here.

Does a Generational Divide Await Asia Pacific’s Return to Travel?

Source: Skift

What generation will be the first to travel? There are some interesting trends and opinions around this topic.

According to Chinese data, those born after 1990 (young millenials and Gen Zs) will be more likely to resume travel since they accounted for over 50% of bookings during the May Day break.

Industry experts believe that older millennials will change their travel habits, shifting their focus to job security and saving for the future.

On the other hand, reports and opinion from Singapore and Australia suggest that the baby boomers (who have the highest household wealth) and seniors will lead the way in travel.

Baby boomers have been waiting to travel for 30 years, so this [pandemic] is just a blight and inconvenience.”

Bronwyn White, CEO of New Young Consulting.

Unlike younger generations and those juggling work and homeschooling, baby boomers and seniors have the flexibility of time and availability of money to pack and go. They’re also more likely to take necessary precautions and stick to the rules.

Do you think China’s early signs of youth-led tourism recovery will be replicated in other countries or will the boomers and seniors lead by example?

Or perhaps it’s s not an age thing at all.

Instead, how do we define the risk-averse?

Read the full article here.


Here's my top-tip articles:

10 Recovery, Health and Safety Recommendations for Adventure Travel from ATTA

Source: ATTA

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) have prepared a set of 10 health and safety recommendations for recovery that’s written specifically for tour operators, service providers, accommodations, and guides within the adventure niche, although they apply to all tour operator businesses regardless of niche in my opinion.

Here’s a summary:

1. Re-evaluate your market. Assess the impact of the covid-19 crisis on your market and think of other opportunities out there. The ATTA suggests the following approach: local, regional, domestic, international short-haul, international long-haul.

2. Modify your product. The new normal will have different demands. Make sure that you adapt your product accordingly because your competitors will.

3. Consider a risk assessment method. This is crucial if you want to have an objective understanding of the situation. It will particularly help establish hygiene measures.

4. Establishment of health and safety protocols. In order to operate, your tour operator business needs to have all necessary measures, procedures and regulations in place.

5. Staff training. Your team should be informed and feel confident of all health and safety protocols. Ensure they are familiar with measures relating to:

a) Social distancing

b) Hand hygiene

c) Cleaning surfaces and equipment

d) Personal protective equipment

e) Self-monitoring


6. Investment in new equipment. This may include things like safety gear and sanitation equipment. Beforehand, plan out the cost of this overhead.

7. Redesign the experience you provide. Some examples:

a) Placing physical barriers

b) Touchless technological solutions

c) Cleaning protocols for frequently touched places

8. Rework your terms and conditions. Take another look at your existing policies. You might want to make your cancellation policy more flexible and directly address the current crisis.

Want a simple template that you can copy and paste onto your website? We’ve done the leg-work for you with 10xFlex: The Booking Policy Template to Secure Deposits Now

9. Encourage health screening and be prepared to react in case of symptoms appearing among employees or travellers. Your revised policies should clearly communicate the procedures for self-monitoring. Moreover, they should include action guides in case of identifying covid-19 symptoms.

10. Be transparent and honest. Don’t forget that this is a new reality for everyone. Communicate with your customers, reassure them that you are doing everything possible to keep providing the best service.

Read the full article here.

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How are Tour Operators Preparing for a Return to Travel?

I believe case studies are so powerful in providing insight, sparking your own creativity and instilling confidence to do what others have. In this article, you’ll learn the tactics of six different tour operators for what they’re doing to generate bookings.

Here’s the lowdown from all of them:

Collette Tours
  • They have been proactively communicating with their suppliers and third parties to ensure everyone is taking health and safety measures to minimise rise to their customers.
  • Vehicle cleaning is carried out regularly and according to a schedule
  • No longer displaying pamphlets or handouts to minimise touching
  • Making hand sanitizers and masks readily available on tours
  • Implementing social distancing guidelines
  • Limiting large groups
  • Capping passenger numbers per departure on some tours
  • Staggering times and schedules
  • Reducing occupancy in restaurants and meeting spaces
  • Offering more personalized services.
  • Constant and consistent monitoring and adapting to the changing situation
  • Considering carrying out wellness checks with their customers prior arrival.
G Adventures

This tour operator business is motivating travellers to book a trip before the end of 2020 by providing them with the opportunity to cancel or change bookings up to 14 days prior to the departure.

They also hold a virtual tour series to inspire future bookings.

Intrepid Travel

This travel company aims to focus on small group tours, maintaining trust, comfort and staying connected with its local community.

Due to their close connection to local tour leaders, James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, feels they can provide the much needed reassurance to travellers.

Kensington Tours

Kensington Tours have identified the four main stages that consumers move through (fear, understanding, action and recovery) and have taken action to assist their customers through each stage.

Here are some examples of how they’re doing that:

  • Adjusting their T&Cs
    • Existing bookings receive 100% payment protection
    • Flat rates for 2021
    • Introducing a ‘cancel for any reason’ within 30 days prior to tour date policy on all new bookings
  • Ensuring appropriate H&S standards are in place with their local teams including transportation, tour guides and properties.
  • Recognising that customers will likely focus on spending time with friends and family and the preferred way to do that will be in small groups or privately guided tours.
Perillo Tours

Steve Perillo, the president of Perillo Tours who specialise in bringing American travellers to Italy, highlights that the situation is too uncertain to predict exactly what group tours will look like in the future.

Perillo’s approach is to focus on ensuring their customers experience a stress-free journey, through the following ways:

  • Informing customers of what to expect at their domestic airport, destination airport and train stations, such as documentation and whether there will be temperature checks.
  • Sharing new supplier protocols with customers where appropriate
  • Asking their customer to complete wellbeing forms in advance as required by their hotel.
  • Creating branded face masks for guests and guides.

For this travel company, returning back to business is all about staying in touch with their stakeholders and ensuring they all have new H&S protocols in place. Due to the constantly changing environment, it is crucial to stay connected with suppliers, partners and clients.

“Constant communication is essential, and this ongoing dialogue helps us gauge where and when we can begin welcoming our guests once again.”

– Jennifer Tombaugh, the president of Tauck.


Tauck is also offering credit vouchers for 2020/2021 tours to those who have cancelled bookings up to July 2020.

Will you be implementing any of these tactics for your tour operator business?

Read the full article here.

how to avoid zoom gloom

21 Actionable SEO Tips For Explosive Growth

“SEO is a marketing function for sure, but it needs to be baked into a product, not slapped on like icing after the cake is baked.” — Duane Forrester


If your tour operator business is searching for ways to improve its website’s SEO, then check out the full infographic from Boom Agency that provides 21 SEO tips you’ll want to consider.

Here are some of them:

  • A website’s structure matters. This is important for  easy navigation and for search engines to find and index your site in the most efficient way.
  • Create a quality content. Produce content with your site visitors in mind. It needs to be engaging, useful and interesting to them. Avoid keyword stuffing and placing text behind images. These outdated tactics can lead to penalties from Google.
  • Check for duplicate content. Remove any duplicate content to avoid causing confusion for search engines.
  • Optimize your title and meta description tags. Make these succinct and relevant. They play a big role in enticing a reader to click through to your website from the SERP.
  • Make social sharing as easy as possible. When people like your content they want to spread the word and share it. Make it easy for them.

View the full infographic here.


A statistic I found interesting:

One positive health aspect stemming from the covid-19 lockdown is that an estimated 11,000 premature deaths were avoided due to improvements in the Europe’s air quality. This data was taken over the past 30 days as of 30 April 2020. (Statista)

A question for you:

Is your government in discussions regarding a travel bubble? What would this mean for your tour operator business?

Share your thoughts and comments on our Facebook and Linkedin page or drop me an email at [email protected] – I’d love to hear from you.

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