Thursday, February 11, 2021

Checking In: The Future of Travel Post-COVID-19

Stephanie Bannos, Head of Customer Experience Strategic Solutions
Strategy

After the year we’ve had, we could all use a break.

The COVID-19 pandemic inserted a lot of uncertainty into the travel industry, but some certainty is on the way: According to recent data compiled by Destination Analysts, 51 percent of those surveyed believe that the arrival of the vaccine is what will make them feel comfortable traveling in the next six months.

 

Point of No Return: To Reduce Churn, Utilize Data at Each Step of the Customer Journey 

New data has emerged to provide a window into when that normalcy will occur. Destination Analytics further predicted that business travel will start increasing around June 2021, while Expedia identified the period between April and September of 2021 as when leisure travel will pick up.

 

But consumers won’t simply abandon the concerns they hold now about airlines, hotels and other ground or rail transit—rather, the vaccine will encourage them to consider travel so long as they feel safe in their environment. It’s important now, more than ever, to continue reassuring customers of your cleaning protocols, social distancing measures and commitment to offering as much of a touchless experience as possible.

 

Rightpoint is prepared for just such an occasion. Through our Voice of Consumer (VoC) programs, coupled with other Research and Analytics offerings, we enable companies to stay ahead of the curve in customer sentiment and translate insight into tangible steps leading to measurable business results.

Here, we highlight three key trends in the travel industry to watch in the coming year, as well as some ways Rightpoint believes brands can capitalize on them.

Trend #1: Travel Pods

People are particularly choosy about their travel companions these days. Rather than risk infection when disparate households join for a vacation, 79 percent of consumers are opting to put together a “travel pod”—a group of friends and family members who follow similar COVID-19 practices and quarantine before the trip—according to luxury travel network Virtuoso.

 

The Virtuoso data further offers a look into the makeup of those pods. Before the pandemic, multigenerational travel was the most prominent industry trend, according to 60% of Virtuoso’s travel specialists, and this has become more pronounced in lockdown. Airbnb found that searches for “family” on its site in September 2020 were 2.5 times the rate at the same time last year.

 

Though travel pods plan trips together, vary your messaging by targeted age and income demographics. For example, every member of Gen-Z surveyed by Virtuoso said they’re ready to travel now, meaning you can lead with information about the destination. Meanwhile, safety is the most important consideration factor for those 41 and older—only half of those surveyed are ready to travel—so place primary emphasize cleanliness protocols.

 

Consumers’ level of disposable income remains a key differentiator. Affluent travelers, for example, are more likely to place an indefinite hold on vacations or rebook for a later date rather than ask for a refund, while others expect their money back. For both audiences, consider working with Rightpoint to put together a Rapid Response Insights Team to continuously run costs versus benefits analyses of offering flexible booking policies, reduced fees, generous refund offers and personalized customer service. This information can then be calibrated by the demographics of your target audience.

 

Point of No Return: To Reduce Churn, Utilize Data at Each Step of the Customer Journey

 

Lodging considerations are still largely determined by level of cleanliness and social distancing guidelines—roughly 80 percent of those surveyed by Expedia claimed those factors were the primary ones in making decisions about lodging. But take your messaging and policies further than a simple deep clean by elevating your use of digital technologies. For example, installing cameras in the lobby so guests can monitor crowds from your mobile app instills peace of mind before guests enter the building. Leverage check-in data to provide visibility into ‘peak times’ so that guests can avoid crowds when they have the flexibility to arrive early or late. And push more real-time experience surveys to keep a constant pulse on sentiment.

Trend #2: Contactless Experiences

Despite safety precautions being implemented on airplanes and the proven quality of HEPA-filtered and circulated air, travelers are still reticent to spend multiple hours in a confined space.

 

But airlines, in many ways, have been ahead of the curve when it comes to contactless technologies. From personal device entertainment to ever-improving functionality within mobile apps, the “need” to touch objects has been on the way out for over a decade. There’s no better time to highlight these long-standing investments in touchless technology, and doubling down on this trend will provide value long into the future. For example, scannable QR codes are replacing menus in restaurants and can certainly find a place on planes.

 

We know that travel anxiety is high and adherence to COVID-19 protocols is imperfect, so to improve the comfort of your customers and reduce risk of conflicts, consider building new functionality into your mobile device so passengers can hail flight attendants or anonymously report COVID safety violations in seconds; this action benefits not only fellow passengers but the crew as well, who can better focus on their jobs without needing to constantly course-correct passenger behavior.

 

Point of No Return: To Reduce Churn, Utilize Data at Each Step of the Customer Journey 

Further, listen to your front-line. Increase the number of ways your crews on the ground can offer feedback as well as the level of which you adopt this feedback. Every day, they live the reality that wasn’t part of long-standing policies and procedures, so opening channels of communication can yield innovative ideas. 

 

Because this is a key area of focus within the industry, Rightpoint remains focused on solutions that harness the insights gathered from distributed workforces and translate them to better experiences for employees and customers alike. 

Trend #3: The Return of the Road Trip

Though consumers are softening their stance on travel, many will merely dip their toe in the water before jumping fully into an international expedition. A recent study by McKinsey discovered that 67 percent of customers are planning to take their first leisure trip by car, with 90 percent of those folks preferring domestic travel. These are likely to be shorter trips, as well: Expedia found that 70 percent of potential travelers are willing to drive up to six hours max.

 

Point of No Return: To Reduce Churn, Utilize Data at Each Step of the Customer Journey 

Capture these consumers by introducing hyper-localization into your audience strategies and incentive programs—at least temporarily. For example, car rental companies that provided special incentives for booking rental cars and air travel simultaneously could, instead, target local audiences with specials on convertibles and other prestige vehicles as hallmarks of a modern staycation. Bus and rail companies might promote shorter distance travel along with bundled offers from local attractions and small businesses. The goal is to spark excitement while maintaining how easy it is to take a safe break from quarantine. 

 

Ground transportation can also look to the decade of innovation in airlines for inspiration. Mobile apps can become the primary engagement platform – think recommended playlists, interactive maps of attractions, or social gamification such as a scavenger hunt with publicly awarded prices on your social feed. By bringing more interactivity to your digital assets, customers can find joy and delight that’s 100% to your brand’s credit. 

 

Rightpoint recognizes that pivoting to localized strategies can feel daunting, especially for brands who’ve been investing in global or multi-region initiatives. Striking the balance between near-term revenue-driving tactics and longer-term core growth investments is no simple task, which is why an experience-led approach that is part quantitative and part qualitative can unveil opportunities that are short-term generative and long-term sustainable.

Future Trends

A partnership with Rightpoint enables your company to stay on top of the latest travel industry trends with flexible, sustainable strategies. From capturing consumer and employee sentiment insights to evaluating opportunities to further digitize experiences, Rightpoint is adept at defining agile, sustainable strategies and partnering through their implementation. As an experience company, we recognize the pace of expectations often outpaces a brand’s ability to adapt, and that is no more true than in the travel industry these days.

 

Email [email protected] today to learn more about how you can stay ahead of industry trends and evolve your customer experiences to meet today’s demands.