BETA Board Open Forum

We recently held an open forum for BETA members to come together to discuss the impact of covid-19 on our sector

Lead by Association Director Emma English, BETA’s voluntary board of directors took the opportunity to share their own opinions and views of working through covid-19 and gave forecasts into what the future might look like for the youth, student and educational travel sector.

The board are all part of active businesses within our sector and cover a wide cross section of BETA’s membership, from study abroad, English Language Centres, accommodation, trips, tours and more.

As a group of individuals, their joint expertise in working through covid-19 is invaluable and we felt it important to create an open forum for members to ask questions and receive responses.

BETA Board Members:

  • Steve Lowy, CEO, Anglo Educational Services (Chairman)
  • Murray Roberts, MD, St Christopher’s Inns (vice Chair)
  • Dick Porter, Honorary President
  • Michele da Silva, MD, Britannia Student Services
  • Graeme Ward, MD, Haggis Adventures
  • James Herbertson, MD, Bayswater Education
  • Anna Fawcett, Head of Global Marketing, Topdeck Travel
  • Dan Baker, GM for Europe,
  • Huan Japes, Director of Membership, English UK

Responses to each question have been summarised in order to bring together the various views, however, BETA members can access the full recording of the webinar here

What is the future of group travel?

A challenging question as no one has a crystal ball, but it was agreed that there were two scenarios currently, the pre-vaccine future and the post-vaccine future.

Pre-vaccine and with social distancing in place it’s going to be very difficult for businesses to make their models financially viable. For example, having 50% reduced capacity or empty middle seats, the economics of group travel will be hugely impacted. Group travel is built around the “value” proposition so would still need to reflect that in whatever the “new normal” looks like.

It was agreed that in the post-vaccine world things should right themselves pretty quickly, however, youth group travel as a sector still needs to evolve. 

Businesses would need to focus on building trust in their customer base, as during this period, travellers trust has been impacted, with failed insurance claims, or changes to booking conditions, so rebuilding trust is going to be integral in terms of repositioning themselves.

Safety and hygiene is going to need to be moved to the front of house i.e. more visible statements, actions and tools, care packs etc to drive reassurance for customers.

And of course, across all of this technology is going to play a huge role in the evolution of group travel as a whole, it will drive, the low touch factor, from check-in’s for trips, tours, accommodation, to tour audio guides, queue times and more.

Can social distancing work in accommodation settings? 

Looking at the various types of accommodation providers within membership from homestay, to hostels, student residences and more, it was clear that there are challenges across the board.

Purpose- built student accommodation (of which there are around 5-6,000 beds in the UK) operate much the same as a group tour, they work at scale, margins are low and therefore these buildings need to be full. But being full and being socially distanced are not things that go hand in hand.

A popular choice for long term students and some junior markets is the host family/homestay market. This market retains its popularity as it offers a unique and personal experience, living in a real family home. In the current circumstances host families are having to adapt a great deal, from rotas for bathrooms and eating in separate rooms to create a social distance, but essentially it can work well, much like the private rental market.

So how can the uber social hostelling environment tackle social distancing? As industry operators we all know that some of the most fun you can have is in a shared dormitory in a hostel. However, the whole social interaction is a direct conflict with social distancing. Huge credit to the sector as they are taking their future into their own hands and have created a working group to look at standards and best practice to ensure that the can open safely.

The expectation across the whole sector is that social distancing will feature heavily, it is what consumers want and need to make them feel secure.

The UK Government published new guidance for accommodation providers on 5/6/20 which you can read here

But what for socially distanced Language Schools?

Many UK schools have started to bring back pupils this month and Language Schools can learn a lot from these examples. English UK are also devising a set of guidelines for its members to help them look at approaches to re-opening and examples include virtual receptions and adopting the bubble principle to keep small groups together throughout their visit, thus reducing contact with wider groups.

But again as with the other sectors mentioned in this article, the practicalities will come down to cost effectiveness.

Are you making plans to return to the workplace?

As a network of businesses BETA members operate a wide range of workplaces, from offices, to transport, retail and more.

We recently delivered a webinar entitled Returning to the Workplace to help members to start to think about what they might need to consider and the legal responsibilities that employers have towards their employers.

As part of that event we ran a short poll to gauge where members were at in terms of opening and its results are shown here.

It’s also worth noting that whilst 50% are making plans to open, none have a date of when this might be as it’s such a dynamic and changing situation.

Flexible working is key with 83% of members saying that they would retain a percentage of working from home providing clear guidelines, risk assessments and processes for employees.

Open communication is also of paramount importance, much like instilling confidence in your customers, instilling confidence in your staff is essential. Many are preparing staff questionnaires to better understand their staff needs and what might be feasible routes to returning to the workplace i.e. staggered starts, working day rotas, return to work policies etc.

For some legal guidance on what you need to consider, do listen here to our latest webinar with TravLaw.

Predictions for late summer business?

There are grass shoots of business enquiries coming through, the challenge is going to be whether we will be “open” to that business.

Domestic tourism will certainly benefit as all of the consumer sentiment reports show, Brits are generally unlikely to travel internationally this year.

But how accessible is the domestic market for businesses so focussed on international visitors? it’s clear that many members cannot easily pivot their product to attract a domestic audience. The domestic group tour business is dominated by some major players – some of which have already gone to the wall during covid-19 – and the model is different.

If businesses can create smaller, more private experiences, there could be an opportunity. But for many this will be the year of three winters.

BETA’s Asks of Government

  • Visas more generous working conditions and flexibility for students and young people to study, travel and work
  • Furlough Scheme longer support for tourism and hospitality businesses
  • Quarantine a more measured approach to quarantine
  • Business Rates & Rents stop the postcode lottery of business rates relief and allocate the funds to those that need it. Deferment/pause of rents on commercial agreements to allow the economy to reset itself
  • Understand the enormous value of international students and young people build a considered plan to attract students. Australia is working on it currently and they recognise the value of their international students and tourists and provide an excellent example for the UK to follow

In conclusion

As an industry we need to look beyond the immediate challenges of covid-19. Things that seem radical, can soon become the norm. There was a time for example when you didn’t have to put all of your toiletries into a tiny plastic bag at the airport. When you didn’t need to wear seatbelts in the back of your car. So, we need to find ways to live for today and adapt to the “new normal”.

BETA members are focussed on an audience that is hugely valuable for the next 10, 20, 30 years. Youth travellers are resilient and are the audience that is most likely to bounce back the fastest.

For many members 2020 is looking like a year of three winters, but there are still opportunities, just different ones…

New opportunities are created from these times of huge stress but ultimately, we will come out the other side.

BETA Members can access the full webinar recording here