From refund guarantees to celebration holidays, Globetrender speaks with Lysbeth Fox, founder of Fox Communications, about the future of travel, civic responsibility in hospitality and what she has learnt from being grounded.
Who do you think will be the first people to start travelling and why?
Travel journalists – I truly feel for them. They are so used to constantly travelling I can’t imagine how it must have been for them to be stuck in one place for such a long duration. Luxury travellers and mass market guests looking for a bargain will be next.
The luxury traveller will want privacy and seclusion – they will be able to afford private jets, yachts and villas. They will travel together as a family and in groups of friends rather than mixing with others. Mass market tourists will look to pick up bargain packages and discounted deals.
How do you feel about travelling once travel bans are lifted? Where do you think you might go first?
The first thing I am doing is visiting my parents in the New Forest. I can’t wait to get in the car and drive. I am missing that sense of freedom – I feel trapped in my locality currently and can’t wait to press on the accelerator and drive away from where I have been in lockdown.
What kinds of holidays do you think will be most popular among luxury travellers of tomorrow?
Initially, over the summer, they will go to villas on private jets with their families. And then going into Q4 2020 and 2021 they will take long-haul trips for an extend period of time. Connection, bucket-list trips, family and friends will be high on the agenda, as will ‘money no object’ trips, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and celebration holidays.
What luxury travel trends do you expect to see emerging over the next six to 12 months?
At the recent Globetrender Luxury Travel Forecast event in February, which I chaired, I asked the panel what their buzzwords were for the next ten years. Mine is ‘carbon negative’. I think we’ll all come out of this wanting to know that we are doing good through travel, giving back to the local community, offsetting our flights, stopping impacting our world negatively, reconnecting with loved ones, and making positive change as we go forward.
How can the travel industry help restore people’s confidence to travel? Can you give any examples of things your clients are doing to help win people’s trust?
All travel companies will have a cleanliness charter – staff will wear face masks and gloves for the time being, perplex glass will be put up as barriers between guests and staff until there is a vaccine. In the long run, hospitality companies will have to be totally transparent with their refund offering.
No one will book with a company that doesn’t offer a full refund to their guests. Travel companies will have to restructure their cash-flows to ensure they can take deposits and put them in an escrow account, or something similar, to ensure the traveller can be reimbursed if something happens in the future.
In the last couple of decades, we’ve had Covid-19, the ash cloud, 9/11, a recession – and perhaps more pandemics to come. As an industry we need to be transparent and fair with refunds. Crises happen and they will happen again, travel companies need to be better prepared for when they do, which it seems inevitable that they will.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you professionally as a travel PR and your company?
Specialising in luxury travel PR and having international clients, it was like a domino effect – from country to country we had to quickly pivot our communications strategy towards crisis management mode. We were on call 24/7, drafting statements, website copy, letters, e-blasts, constantly on calls and advising our clients with their internal and external communications campaigns.
Once it directly hit the UK, I had to deal with the impact on our business and my team. We started WFH [work from home] earlier than the government recommendation. First and foremost, my team are my priority, their safety and wellbeing are my primary concern, hence we were early on implementing tech and processes enabling a swift and seamless WFH strategy for our clients and my team.
What has been your approach to managing clients?
We are supporting all of our clients through this. ‘We are in this together’ runs deep at Fox Communications. My team and our clients are still working together, no matter what they are experiencing. In fact, one of my hotel clients sent me an email just today saying ‘the attitude of Fox Communications during this time is remarkable’, which is exactly what it should be during these difficult days.
Have any of your clients been pivoting or innovating in interesting ways during the crisis?
I am delighted to say yes. A great many of our clients are reaching out to their local communities to offer food aid and volunteering – it’s wonderful to see how our industry pulls together in times of need. Having started out in luxury consumer PR, I can honestly say that while this may not hold true in every sector, in hospitality, when in trouble, we come together.
At Fox Communications we also support London charity The Felix Project which has had to quadruple the amount of food delivered to people in need during Covid-19. The charity rescued and delivered 685 tonnes of food (equivalent to 1,629,616 meals) to help vulnerable people going hungry in April.
How are you trying to build resilience into your company?
I have an amazing team at Fox, and they make me proud every day. I didn’t furlough my staff as we are in this together, as a team. However hard that decision was for us, it felt right. It’s been tough but I truly believe that it was the right decision for us as sits with our company values.
I totally understand other companies going down different routes and totally respect their decision during this period. However, for us, I felt that maintaining the normality of work, even on a reduced hours schedule, would help with their mental health and wellbeing whilst being stuck at home during lockdown, and foster a sense of community and connection between us all.
Has WFH changed the way you think about offices?
We will definitely offer more WFH days at Fox Communications when we go back to our offices in London and New York. Seeing how seamlessly we’ve all managed to WFH has really changed my opinion and now we’ve got accustomed to Microsoft Teams and Zoom there is no reason why we can’t add some WFH days into their monthly work schedule.
The other side of the coin, though, is that it has made me realise how much I’ve missed seeing and spending time with my team. I can’t wait to get back to the office to actually see them and be in the same room (albeit with social distancing in place). I don’t think technology will ever replace human interaction, but a greater mix of both is inevitable now.
How do you feel about the future of travel PR?
I am hopeful to think that we will learn from this and come out of this pandemic with better values and bring back a stronger sense of ‘the age of travel’. Travel companies will have to be more transparent with regards to their supplier chain. They will have to communicate their purpose to engage the end user, drawing upon empathy and connection.
Sustainability practices will come to the forefront, as flight costs will be more expensive, longer trips will be inevitable. The importance of spending time with friends and family will become more prevalent, privacy and cleanliness paramount, as well as exploring local communities, interacting with locals and learning about the destination.
I hope we will come out of this lockdown with a greater appreciation for travel, respect the environment and with a renewed sense of discovery.
What is the future of press trips?
I think individual press trips will resume as soon as we are allowed to travel again but group trips will come further down the line.
We are one of the only travel PR companies to have initiated carbon offsetting a long time ago with all our flights and I hope more travel companies will follow suit. I have the hugest amount of respect for travel journalists, and they will want to travel the world and report back on how the destination has changed and the local community faired during this time.
What have you learnt from being grounded?
That I am okay in the house for a while. My life is so normally so crazy – I am constantly out and about or travelling. Being at home for this extended period has taught me that it’s not necessary to rush from place to place, it feels good to stay in one place.
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