Mon | 03.08.2020
Tourism & Travel
Happy Tour is operating in the Business Travel, MICE (events) and Leisure tourism industry for more than 25 years. Their story began in 1994 as a family business and they grew step by step in becoming a group of internationally renowned brands that sets the standards of quality in the Romanian travel market and abroad.
They have always wanted to be as close as possible to their clients, that's why they have partnered with agencies from all over the country, their network counting, so far, 61 associated agencies with 71 offices in 47 cities in all counties and even abroad.
Happy Tour philosophy is simple: they are partners in travel services for companies and tourists, listening to their customers, understanding their needs and offering creative, logistical and technical business solutions, depending on each type of trip or event, as they are also specialized in organizing corporate events.
They have always cultivated the values of quality, integrity, transparency, teamwork, commitment to customers, respect for people and responsibility. They guided and helped Happy Tour evolve, adapt and make the best decisions.
Happy Tour proudly represents FCM Travel Solutions in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, being part of the worldwide network with local presence in 90+ countries. The affiliation to the FCM network allows them to provide to their customers state of the art technology, best reporting procedures, cost reductions and the most innovative ideas for business travel. FCM Travel Solutions is the no. 1 Travel Management Company in Europe and in the world according to World Travel Awards, for 11 years in a row.
Dedicated Interview with Javier Garcia del Valle, Group CEO & Chairman at Happy Tour / FCM Travel.
Q. With the obvious restrictions due to coronavirus, the tourism and travel industries are suffering. How is Happy Tour managing? What do you see coming in the medium-term?
A. The coronavirus has been a big setback for the entire industry. Our focus right now is helping our clients in dealing with their exiting and future bookings and to provide them with the most accurate information possible for them to take best decissions in relation with their travel.
There is a lot of uncertainty right now as to when this will all be over. No one knows for sure but we are starting to see some positive signs. The power of travel is strong and we know people are going to want to get out and experience the world again, once it’s safe to do so, after being contained indoors for so long.
Q. What are your predictions for how corporate travel will change after the pandemic? i.e. the ‘new normal’.
A. I dought about this idea that everything will be remote. Many things will be remote, indeed, but travellers, more than ever, understand the value of human connection and meeting people in person. I think we’ll see an uptake in train travel and companies monitoring their travel management programmes more closely in the name of traveller safety. They’ll make sure trips are really essential while there’s still this uncertainty in the air about the virus and good corporate travel providers will make sure they’ve got robust travel safety options and duty of care solutions available to their customers. And we are here for them.
Increased flexibility and insurance is going to be one of the biggest things people are looking for when booking trips after the pandemic subsides. A lot of people will be ticking that little box they usually skipped before this happened, but they’ll be looking for airline providers and insurers to step up and ensure they’re covered for pandemics, which wasn’t necessarily the case before.
Q. What about Romania? How did the situation in the country evolve?
A. In this period we focused on promoting the domestic tourism because it was the only accessible and possible one and we relied on holiday vouchers. In this sense, we have developed a partnership with Romanian Romance that promote premium traditional destinations. Most of the locations have an old history and are old heritage buildings that have been rehabilitated and transformed into guest houses. They are located in countryside areas where no crowds are formed, being more isolated. Premium traditional travel is not so popular in Romania, but it is starting to grow and we want to contribute to its popularization because it is so full of beauty, stories and unique offers, authentic experiences.
Q. How did you manage the relationship with your employees during this period?
A. Transparency and onnestity. Happy Tour is a big family in which each member is equally important. And in any family we help and support each other when in need. We were commited from the begining not to give up on the employees and make layoffs. There are many travel companies that have done this, but we have made efforts to keep them. During this period we are even running a campaign called People of Happy Tour, presenting ourselves to the world through our employees. This makes customers understand that behind an email or phone call is always a dedicated person who works hard to help them with their travel needs. Working with HAPPY people is the best!
Q. There are some new trends emerging for travel, like ‘virtual’ tourism and local/domestic travel. Do you have any thoughts?
We believe domestic travel is going to be the big thing of the summer and autumn this year, despite Europe opening up to more travel being allowed in the Schengen area. Many people – while there is still uncertainty about virus handling in countries, available routes, different geographical travel restrictions -will make the most of their surroundings and explore their resident countries more via train or car, with the novel experience of having less tourists to deal with.
It is understandable people look into it while travel have stopped so abruptly and they had no possibiliy to more freely. But, as lockdowns are lifted, I think people are extremely keen and eager to get outdoors, see each other, explore the world and start living their lives again.
Q. From the end of March to the beginning of June, travel was less than ever. How was the relationship with customers during this time?
A. We have chosen to communicate transparently and frequently with our clients. We’ve sent constant information, helped them get home from where they were and contacted them in order to keep a close relationship. Because at that time the restrictions adopted by the states changed very often and new directives appeared almost daily, we decided to gather all the updates with the measures adopted by the most visited states in Europe and not only. It was not an easy job because sometimes we were confused as well considering the amount of information that had to be extracted from sources that were not always at hand. But after we uploaded these informative documents on our website, the positive reactions did not take long to appear and we were very satisfied with the results. Also, exclusively for the corporate area, we created special vouchers to be given to customers or employees as a gesture of loyalty in a time when we are all struggling with the same problems.
Q. Are people afraid to travel, no matter what the reason?
A. In normal times people are not afraid to travel, the most common fear being that of flying. But in times of pandemic, it is normal for people to be concerned, especially that since it all began we have been assaulted with excess of information on this subject every day. However, while Romania was in a state of emergency, about 4 months ago, we conducted an online survey among our social media followers and concluded that people are still planning to travel. 52% of respondents said they see their next holiday in summer (July/August), while 35% were dreaming of a trip immediately after the pandemic. The remaining 13% opted for the "winter" and "next year" responses. Quite interesting, right? It seems that hopes can never be undone.
Q. What were the estimated numbers for this year and how will the year end?
A. We had set ourselves an increase for this year and in January things were going in this direction but after the outbreak of COVID-19 everything changed. This is an unprecedented situation that we have never faced before and not only us, Happy Tour, but all tourism operators. Everything that was accomplished by travel agencies in the first months of the year was lost in the following ones. Unfortunately, the nightmare of recent months will not end so quickly because the global health crisis is far from over. Tourism is a sensitive area to any local or global problem, and in this case, tourism has been the most affected area. Yes, it is true that slowly the world has started to travel. We have events requests for the 4th quarter and we have started to implement new clients on business travel, but we are far from what it would normally have been the reality during this period. There are still a lot of restrictions and our activity is difficult, the uncertainty presses even more, and if, God forbid, the restrictions increase, this year can be lost. For some small travel agencies, as we already saw a few, maybe the whole business could be lost. Basically, only in the 3rd quarter we will start to have a mouthful of oxygen, only if the current situation does not change radically and there are no other restrictions or bigger problems. It will probably take at least 2-3 years to reach what we set out to do for 2020.
Q. During all this "black" period there must be good parts. What would those be?
A. The most important thing is that we are healthy and that we have been able to ensure the safety of our employees and communities. Facing a challenge like this has made us understand that we are a close-knit community that by staying together can help one another. I think the fact that we have shown solidarity and understanding for each other has brought us closer and made us realize how strong we can be together.
The fact that we have organized to operate in normal parameters and to continue to offer the same quality services with the lowest possible costs from the company has demonstrated how competent and professional we are. Customers have given us all the confidence. We didn't lose any client, moreover, we gained a few clients on business travel. This gave us enormous confidence and meant that they understood our message and we did our job in the best way possible.
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