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Skift Forum Europe is here and we're excited! We have a jam-packed agenda that includes keynote presentations, panels, and brand talks with an array of travel leaders as we explore the future of travel leading out of the pandemic.

Safety may not be sexy. But as a core brand value, it’s a pretty useful association to have when travelers are trepidatiously deciding whether or not it’s safe to go on holiday again.

That was the assessment of TUI Group’s Chief Marketing Officer Erik Friemuth in conversation with Skift’s Corporate Travel Editor Matthew Parsons on Tuesday at Skift Forum Europe.

“When we look at the brand four years ago, we saw that safety and reliability — these kinds of values are absolutely strong in the brand and we needed to make sure the brand gets a little more sexy, let’s say,” Friemuth said. “But these kind of values … help massively with convincing customers. Maybe it’s a little bit early days, but I think there may be a comeback of package holidays. They never disappeared — but people understand the value of their product and the value of the control” over the end-to-end experience.

TUI Group — which spans resorts, flights, cruises, and travel agencies — has just begun to start offering holidays to European destinations most popular with German travelers, such as Mallorca. Friemuth told Parsons that many of the customer enquiries regarding restarting holiday travel have been “what happens when …” kind of fears. The package holiday sector, he noted, is well-placed to give consumers confidence after what happened to many travelers as the global lockdown kicked off. Marketing should reflect that, but not go overboard and scare travelers before they even leave home.

“We don’t want to talk a lot about intensive care units [in our marketing], but at the same time we need to message that people are safe when they go with TUI,” Friemuth said. “And I think there is also a natural advantage of package holidays at this point because the … degree of control that TUI and companies like TUI have with regards to the customer experience is helping” restore confidence.

The memory — and perhaps trauma — that the early stages of lockdown had on many travelers won’t being going anywhere soon, Friemuth surmised.

“Remember all those stranded people months ago that didn’t go with a tour operator and needed to wait for the government to carry them back home? These kinds of things we can prevent people from experiencing [on packaged tours] and this is a value in itself and it’s worth to communicate.”

However one hill that TUI may have to climb in the post-crisis landscape is customer refunds. Now that travel is less certain than ever, customers need to feel certain they will get their money back if government restrictions once again get in the way. Parsons noted that the likes of Booking and Airbnb managed to get refunds to customers faster than TUI did in the immediate aftermath. Will TUI’s marketing have to work to regain their trust?

“We stopped the full operation and maybe that’s a little bit more challenging than for other [companies] because we not only have a hotel booking, we have everything — retail airline dest service and hotel experience,” Friemuth said. “From inside we don’t see any damage … I think the promise is still in tact, the brand scores are good, and I think the customers understand that this was a very specific situation. Now the travel bans are getting lifted, we clearly see this situation eases and customers are coming back.”

Photo Credit: A TUI Blue Property TUI Group