At the end of 2020, we hosted a session with our Salesforce partners to discuss upcoming trends in the travel industry. With every week of COVID announcements, the more everything seems to change. But we looked at some of the constants within the industry, thinking about how companies can prepare to take advantage of opportunities as soon as they emerge.
There’s no “back to normal”
In the last year, travel companies have been taking a long hard look at what they do. Before coronavirus, many were already considering changing their business models in response to evolving customer demand. For example, reducing carbon emissions in response to the growing public concerns around climate change.
The pandemic has forced very quick decision-making and divided companies into those who feel hopeless to change their situation, and those who are adapting to the new environment. The most recent IATA report predicts passenger volumes to return to 2019 levels around 2024. But a full recovery does not mean “back to normal” – in the meantime, the entire industry, and its customers, will have changed.
The big question on everyone’s minds is, who will return to travel first. The most likely option is those who have to travel for emotional reasons – families seeing relatives, separated friends, dusty second homes. Holiday and leisure travellers will follow close behind. Corporate travel will likely be the slowest sector to return.
The next question will be whether travellers will be restricted by new health regulations. Will governments require health passports or proof of vaccination? Does this mean those who refuse to get the vaccine will be barred from travelling?
While previously price was arguably the driving factor in terms of traveller choice between travel companies in the past, in the ‘new world of travel’ customers will rely on experience and excellent service as the key component in booking travel. Experience, customer engagement and customer loyalty will be key. Travel companies will need to make it as simple as possible to book and enjoy travel, and consider a more concierge service to encourage loyalty and return business by cementing the position of a trusted advisor. Then they will rely on their customers to promote their positive experiences and continue spending money with them.
Evolving strategies and dynamics
One of the ways companies can drive customer loyalty during the pandemic is to respond to customer demand by changing their policies. Almost nothing is too extreme when it comes to helping customers feel like they have been taken care of. For example, Emirates set up several new options for customers facing disruption earlier on in 2020. That included honouring tickets for flights cancelled because of coronavirus lockdowns for more than two years.
In particular travel specialists quickly realised that travellers who had unused flight coupons might want to book hotels in the destination when they’d be allowed to travel again.The company quickly started up some collaborations with hotel providers and aggregators, and worked with them on promotions for destinations that had been cut off during the pandemic. This popular service saw a significant increase in hotel bookings and proved a timely successful initiative.
Light at the end of the tunnel
There are estimates to say that people have saved up between 20-30% of their incomes during the lockdowns of 2020. The majority of people who were earning money will be excited to start spending again as soon as they are allowed. They will also slowly start to plan their holidays. Cruise bookings have already been picking up, for example, with bookings as far ahead as 2022.
The key to catching the customer will be early spending on the right technology. Integrating systems, streamlining processes and preparing to advertise in the right places will be one way we see the fastest recovery from the pandemic. But more crucially, it will be intelligent data analytics that transforms travel companies to thrive. Travel companies already using Salesforce will be able to make fast business decisions based on customer and company data. We won’t be going “back to normal”, but the future will be just as lucrative for travel companies – in a different way.