COVID-19 pandemic has brought the travel industry to a halt. While recent headlines such as travel bans and major event cancellations make that progress seem like a thing of the distant past, it’s important to remember the industry was healthy and growing before the pandemic hit. It’s uncertain what the future holds for the travel industry. But there are some actions that companies can put into place now to prepare for the months and years ahead in a post-COVID-19 world. Despite the challenges, history has shown that travel is one of the world’s most resilient industries.
What Travel Brands Can Learn From Past Crises
- Safety – Following the genocide in Rwanda, the president went on a mission to encourage tourism, personally hosting media on tours and investing in the redevelopment of the small nation. Now it is one of the safest countries on the continent with a host of the most luxurious hotel properties available.
- Transport – Before the September 11th terrorist attacks, airport security was largely handled by private companies. Following 9/11, management of security shifted to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and became a part of every day customer expectations throughout the airport journey.
- Innovation – After the 2008 financial crisis, many consumers had to seek out new ways to find employment. This contributed to the rise and rapid growth of the gig and sharing economies and companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which were both founded during that time of economic uncertainty.
While we wait for the dust to settle and society to bounce back, here are four actions that travel brands can take to prepare for the future.
1. Boost engagement and stay top of mind
While many travel companies are cutting budgets to preserve cash, they might forget that marketing is more important now more than ever. Travel companies are integral parts of their local communities and should continue to find ways to actively participate in the COVID-19 response.
Learn from those that invested in and prioritized marketing during past recessions. Researchers have found that brands can speed up their recovery post-recession by building brand value and awareness during the recession. One example of a destination currently putting this into practice is South African Tourism with its #TourismStrong campaign. The videos works to remind people that the country will be there when they begin to travel again.
2. Streamline operations in preparation for next wave
As guests around the world are shifting and cancelling their travel, company contact centers are facing unprecedented spikes in volume. Average wait times for customers were over two hours. For one particular airline, as many as 50 percent of its customer calls went unanswered.
Companies can reduce call center volumes by streamlining digital touchpoints to make it easier for customers to cancel and rebook via digital channels. Leading companies have blended their digital and call center teams, automating the use of natural language processing tools to analyze calls and optimize customer demands fluidly across channels.
Travel brands should use this slowdown to streamline operations and diversify their business by reevaluating customer service, demonstrating empathy, earning consumer trust, and improving inventory and products for when demand does come back.
3. Reevaluate your competitive landscape
The economic impact of COVID-19 is inevitable. Many regional airlines, small- to medium-sized hotels, and independent travel agencies will face financial difficulty and bankruptcy. Recovery will not be homogeneous as different parts of the world fight to control the spread of the virus on different timelines. Domestic travel is likely to recover faster than international travel, and some countries will be open for business before others.
This means brands have to reevaluate what the competitive landscape might look like post-recovery. While the timeline is hard to predict, companies in the position to do so need to take steps now to be ready to gain market share, enter new markets, and offer new products.
While entering new markets requires understanding and attracting new customers, there is a wealth of data that allows companies to analyze customer behavior, identify the right prospects, and look for signals to identify when travel is picking back up.
Once these markets are identified, companies can streamline their marketing technology and processes to be able to get the right messages to the right customers at the right time. Setting up dynamic segmentation and then lining up the right offers and promotions will help brands bounce back more quickly.
It’s likely that the changing competitive landscape will make it more necessary for brands to invest in direct-to-customer digital channels. Direct hospitality bookings are also likely to strengthen, as some travellers will hesitate to book through third party services as they seek out increased quality assurances and flexibility in rebooking and cancellation options.
4. Bring health and wellness to the forefront through contactless technologies
Health and wellness practices will no longer be a nice-to-have in a post-COVID-19 world. All travellers will expect higher standards to ensure their wellbeing, and digital tools will enable and expand existing “no touch” options.
Mobile-first technologies such as contactless payments have been in the market for a few years, with limited adoption. However, recent behaviors signal a spike in adoption as customers become more comfortable with the behavior and reconsider who and what they come into physical contact with. For travellers and guests, mobile usage will increase throughout the travel journey, from passports and boarding passes, to keyless hotel entry and digital checkout at hotels.
Hotels will also need to accelerate their investments in “no touch” technologies, such as biometrics, gesture controls, and automation, to personalize digital interactions while enabling social distancing. A leading example of this can be found at the Chengdu Shuangliu airport in China, which has kiosks that already use facial recognition to help travellers check their flight status and find their gate.
The travel industry is at a point of disruption and where travel brands exist in the “food chain” will depend on what they do now in this period of inertia.