Contiki managing director addresses the impact of Covid on international travel

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Aussies are desperate to get back overseas but the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic has made plenty of places more expensive.

Travel is forecast to kick off again in 2022 but the impact of Covid for the past two years has impacted a lot of regions, as businesses that were completely reliant on tourism were forced to shut and find other work.

Few companies are more ready for overseas holidays to be back in fashion than Contiki and the thousands of customers they take on country-hopping tours every year.

The company, which has been running tours for 18 to 35 year olds since 1962, experienced a devastating downturn over the past two years thanks to Covid and the ongoing border closures.

But Contiki managing director Katrina Barry told news.com.au that the company had long been learning how to pivot.

“Flexibility is the new black,” she said.

“We absolutely need to pivot and keep your eye sort of close to the ground and that’s our job, to be the experts on travel. So we’ve had to adapt. I don’t think 2022 is going to be exactly like it was prior to Covid, we’re definitely in a transition period. ”

Ms Barry referred to a European tour last week that had included a stopover at a Christmas market in Austria.

The company was forced to rapidly change up its Austria section and reroute its itinerary when the country snapped its borders shut due to Covid.

“We couldn’t go through Austria … so we had to figure out an alternative route to make sure that we deliver a really great experience for those customers, what are the concepts and how do we deliver the highlights and experiences that people are asking for.”

Travelling in 2022 will be different to what it was in 2019, with Contiki noticing a number of trends – with costs going up “significantly” in parts of Europe and large swathes of business shutting down in Asia.

“What we are noticing is there will be supply issues in various countries … there are so many things across Asia where people live to pay cheque to pay cheque so a lot of businesses have had to close and a lot of families have had to go and find other work,” Ms Barry said.

“That means there’s not as many restaurants or there’s not quite as many to it than in one particular thing.

“And in the Greek Islands, costing has gone up significantly because there are fewer operators and fewer hotels, so we’ve had to build in some of that process. But that’s always been the world.”

While coronavirus has made international travel harder than ever, Ms Barry argues Contiki’s business model has always been to make travel hassle-free and easy.

“If you look back at 1962 …. when Contiki first started … back then it was about crossing borders and different currencies and different languages and it was really difficult to travel,” she said.

“And I actually think we’ve almost come back to that full circle, because travelling post-Covid will probably be a little more difficult.

“And that‘s mainly because of each country has different rules around testing so we’ve had to become experts in testing.”

Ms Barry said the way Contiki used to help its travellers cross the border into places like Yugoslavia back in the 1960s was similar to the way the company has been forced to learn when and where Covid rules and restrictions needed to be applied.

The company has also still been running tours through 2021 in Europe and the US, where they’re learnt how to navigate travel in a post-Covid world.

Despite most countries and airlines enforcing PCR tests, which typically cost in excess of $100 each time, Ms Barry said the costs would not be embedded in their tours, with guides instead helping travellers get tests when needed.

“We’re not building anything into our pricing or our product, because it depends on where you come from so it’s different,” she said.

“So for example if you come from South Africa, it’s a very different process than coming from America or Australia but we know what needs to happen and then we facilitate people to have them on the trips.”

And in terms of potential Covid outbreaks on Contiki tours, which Ms Barry said she hoped would not be common due to everyone needing to be fully vaccinated for the trip, the company is beholden to the local regulations.

For example in the US, a positive case on a Contiki tour would be able to fly home without having to quarantine where as a recent Covid case on a Queenstown tour in New Zealand had to quarantine in their hotel for five days before flying home.

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