By Matthew Furneaux
After a pandemic year, many people are ready to start traveling again. While this is excellent news, travel and hospitality brands continue to face significant challenges as shifting consumer sentiment and operational realities complicate their resurgence.
As a result, several critical questions emerge for brands looking to capture market share as consumers prepare to pack their bags: How can we reassure tentative travelers? What’s the best way to communicate with consumers? How can travel brands reemerge stronger than ever?
For leading travel and hospitality brands, answering these questions is critical as they aim to meet post-pandemic consumer expectations. For those still grappling with the answers, a recent survey of 1,500 US travelers reveals four can’t-miss trends and tips for industry leaders tasked with meeting changing customer expectations in 2021 and beyond.
1. Customers Want More Control
COVID-19 increased consumer demand for control and caution over every aspect of travel. Contactless experiences (46%), the ability to change travel plans without fees (33%), a smooth booking process (31%) and clear communication about COVID policies (31%) were reported as the most important factors for consumers when traveling this year. With COVID limiting the ability to predict what’s next, consumers want brands to help them stay informed and prepared every step of the way.
- Tip: Optimize every touchpoint available and give travelers an omnichannel experience by offering more than one way to connect with your brand.
2. Mobile-First is the New Normal
While email is still the primary channel for travel communications, 34% of travelers point to a growing preference for other methods of communication. Specifically, 19% prefer to be contacted via in-app messaging and 16% through SMS. When on the go, having all the necessary tools, forms and notices in the palm of their hands makes customers more confident that they won’t miss a beat during their journeys, especially in an emergency. From flexible reservations and booking to refund and cancellation pages, every brand’s mobile app should have a UX suitable for travelers of all ages and tech-savviness.
- Tip: A simple and speedy mobile UX is key to keeping consumers connected and engaged through every step of the experience. Ensure that the customer data you’re collecting is clean so that you can respond accurately and nimbly to any inquiry.
3. People Are Traveling – But Not as Far
People may be ready to travel again but many are choosing to stay closer to home. For example, 28% of travelers are still tentative when making travel plans, and flying overseas is entirely out of the question, with only 4% of consumers planning an international trip.
What’s more, uncertainty only increases with age. Most 55+ travelers have yet to make travel plans (37%). To appeal to the needs of different generations, tailoring offers to the right audience is more critical than ever.
Developing targeted offers or promotions that appeal to the 22% of consumers who are open to local travel, or adjusting messaging to reach the 30% of consumers who plan on traveling in the Fall can help capture market share.
- Tip: Increase traveler confidence by sharing deals close to home that they won’t want to miss. Relevant, personalized offers can inspire even the most apprehensive traveler to get back on the horse (or plane).
4. Travelers are Taking Charge
As the travel landscape grows more complex due to COVID protocols, fewer consumers are relying on travel advisors to help plan their getaways. Only 7% of travelers plan to use a travel agency for their next trip.
Instead, more travelers are taking charge of their journeys. Many choose to self-plan. Forty-eight percent prefer an online checkout experience directly with the brand, while 37% prefer to book online through services like Expedia or Travelocity.
Implementing a multi-channel marketing strategy ensures your brand is accessible to shoppers, no matter where they plan, search and book their trip.
- Tip: Beginning every customer journey with accurate and verified data, such as email address, home address, and zip code, can improve both efficiency of a brand’s services and the deliverability of its communications and offers.
The travel and hospitality sector is anticipating a bounce back year. Similarly, people are ready to hit the road (or fly the skies) again. However, the recent pandemic has inextricably altered traveler expectations. Brands are best positioned to thrive when they respond accordingly, providing an incredible customer experience that produces revenue today and loyalty tomorrow.