Light at the end of the tunnel?
We set-up the full time operation of Toristy almost a year to the day (after about a year of part time R&D) and what a year it has been. Even though my career to date has had its fair share of adversity I've never witnessed what we're seeing today.
Could we have picked a worse time to set-up a Travel start up? The first shock for me was the collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019. It was easy to analyse the situation after the event but I didn't see it coming at all. Thomas Cook had been around my entire life and it was a big thing to think about when it happened, at least for me.
Of course it was nothing on what happened next in the early part of 2020.
To say "I didn't see that coming" is an understatement. The first week of March I was supposed to be at Arival in Berlin. When it was cancelled, I was irritated by what I thought was fear, uncertainty and doubt from social media and mainstream news.
I didn’t really take it that seriously until around mid-March. Being honest, I was one of the people comparing it to flu and asking what all the fuss was about. I think the first time I realised it was deadly serious was when I heard the news coming out of Italy. Doctors there were reporting being on a war footing and choosing between critically ill corona patients to deal with in overworked hospitals.
Skift called March 14th the day the world stopped travelling.
Once the magnitude of the whole thing dawned on us plans were put in place to pivot our efforts going forward.
Pivoting in a Scary Situation
Covid-19 is scary, anyone who says otherwise is someone to avoid. It's not just about losing your business, it's literally that you could die. Managing fear is about managing your routines, staying positive and remaining in control of what you're doing. You are obviously going to have to make changes, so it's about how you go about it.
The immediate disruption was going to be working from home or in isolation.
But then it was about providing the tools to do the job (Zoom, Monday.com, Slack), showing that the roadmap is being followed, reporting progress, ensuring that things are delivered by people who say they will deliver, setting deadlines as well as generally describing the opportunity this situation is putting in front of us.
Tools like Zoom allow us to “Slack a link" when we want to do a face to face meeting. We encourage using the video so we see each other and we do more meetings and stand ups than normal so we’re not sitting at home feeling isolated.
Focusing people on moving forward puts fear to the back of the mind.
In February we had a story published in Phocuswire where we said we wanted to be selling by the Summer of 2020.
We switched focus from sales work in March and April to development of the tools and our marketing set-ups. We made a hire to strengthen our development team. What this break in sales did is allow us to strengthen digitally, develop our platform and build out integrations. We're still actively onboarding supply, but we're pulling back from trying to sell to the customers that simply aren't in business at the moment (Ferries, airlines, Hotel chains etc). We are still attempting to approach pilot customers but have scaled back our sales ambition for the pilots to be closer to the end of the year.
Because of the extra development resources, we expect to have Wordpress plugins ready for the reservation system and for channel management to launched by mid-May. We also built a website from scratch on Hubspot that gives us the marketing power we'll need going forward.
Improving routines and outcome based work
A year ago I worked every day from the office with approx 30-45 mins for lunch. I expected everyone to be in around the same length of time. Working from home has been a pleasant surprise when you use the tools I mentioned earlier. I’m encouraging exercise outside while in isolation (I bike every day) and I’m telling people I’m not worried about the hours they put in, just the outcomes they deliver.
Working from home for instance allows me to start at 8am every day, take an hour and a half at 11am for a bike ride, lunch and no-one misses me. I can make up any time I’ve missed later in the afternoon or evening because all my work stuff is home. As long as my colleagues finish what they need to do when they say they will the time is theirs. Want a mid-day Gym break or to take a long hike? Go for it. If there are no commitments like meetings or such then if the work is done at the end of the week, then as a business we're good.
Toristy going forward for the next year
In future we've decided to scale back on our office and work from home. We may drop it totally and join a membership scheme to hire out meeting rooms when we need them.
The daily routines we have developed now will outlast Covid-19 I am 100% sure.
There are huge opportunities in hiring. The travel industry has been decimated. Almost every established company relying on revenue to pay their employees have had to lay off their staff. We're lucky in that we have finance to see us through this, so if I can find a way to hire an experienced sales person I will because it's probably only a matter of time before the talent is re-hired.
We’re also on the lookout for travel industry veterans who might be able to invest and help us with this challenging project so if people are interested, I’m happy to get on a call and tell the story.
The Industry Post Covid-19
We’ve developed a lot of short term things to help cater for a post Covid-19 world specifically because we believe local in destination sales is the way forward. Domestic tourism is where we believe the market will recover first and we're geared up to help that.
For instance, local ferries, train & coach companies have a massive opportunity to sell tours and activities on their own websites and on internal screens in front of people moving from point A to B. We can help facilitate new revenue streams by providing the supplier services as quick go-to market white labelled marketplaces for domestic travel companies.
We’re also going to be rolling out Reserve with Google to all of the suppliers we can offer it too very soon (before summer), which means if people are in an area where services are available, they will find the services offered on Google maps and be able to book them directly.
6 months prediction on International travel
I don’t think international travel will re-bound in a “V” shaped curve as some reports suggest because of a pent up desire to travel immediately after restrictions are lifted.
No disease has led to death and suffering on this scale for 100 years and it’ll take a while before people feel safe, especially in badly impacted countries. The domestic market has therefore got to expect an uplift globally from local tourists holidaying domestically as soon as each government declares it safe. I can’t predict how long this will last but there will be a hit to confidence. Six months might be where the upturn starts and international restrictions ease. That also assumes no new re-occurrence of the disease which is a big if.
The Jungle is Neutral
All in all an action packed first year I'll never forget. If you'd told me in May last year we would be faced with one of the biggest companies in Travel folding and a global pandemic in the first 12 months of business you might expect that I wouldn't have been so keen to get into the work we're doing.
On the contrary, I don't regret the decision at all. Our mission is to make the tour and activity operator famous. If I can make a difference helping tour and activity companies get back on their feet by helping them build sustainable travel business in their domestic markets it's going to be even more satisfying than before.
To borrow a phrase coined by Peter Syme "The Jungle is Neutral". What he means is we're all start ups now. Ok, there are some that have advantages like experience and funding. The tour and activity business though has been levelled in a way it's never been before and the winners will be the ones that adapt to and overcome the challenges.
Stay healthy and keep winning.