In April 2020, the miles purchased available on US companies decreased by 71% compared to the previous year. Globally, hotels are at 29% occupancy, up from 72% in the same period in 2019. However, the prestigious consultancy claims that new demand is sprouting. But the companies in the sector will have to change like this.
The first time you jumped into a cold lake on a hot summer day with the brothers. The first time you ate on the street while walking through the streets of a town with your university roommates. The first business trip out of university, too nervous to enjoy the trip. According to a team of consultants from the industry giant, McKinsey & co., This desire to build memories, connect with people and see new places drove 1.4 billion people to travel internationally in 2019. Creating safer travel experiences is now critical to protecting this privilege.
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However, McKinsey argues in an article in her bulletin (click here for the original), we are seeing sprouts of new demand in areas that are opening up, highlighting a long-lasting desire to travel; April’s McKinsey survey of Chinese leisure travellers shows that many people are already planning their next trip.
But the future of the travel industry, according to McKinsey’s consultants, will not only depend on the pent-up demand from travellers. For some, the romance that travel inspired even before the crisis was fading.
Speaking to people from different geographies who have travelled in the past couple of months, the only constant in their experiences has been even more stress, both due to the limited entry points, multiple new checkpoints, and inconsistent compliance with official security measures by travel companions.
Security must be the top priority. Where possible, however, intensified health and hygiene protocols should be implemented to avoid making travel more difficult post-pandemic, as was the case when travel became logistically more complex after 9/11 due to security additional security measures.
The “move fast” must have often been translated into one-sided decision-making, rather than solutions developed through rapid, iterative feedback. Any further advancement could radically shift behaviours towards simpler experiences, such as choosing to drive a car instead of flying, or it could even dampen the overall recovery.
What travel companies can do for travellers
Travel companies need to excite and attract customers, as well as reassure them. To achieve this, leaders should focus on making travel better, not just safer – which means giving travellers more control, offering greater authenticity and personalization, and adopting an agile, customer-focused approach.
Many travel companies have already announced a range of sanitation and hygiene measures, often promoted with well-known cleaning brands or health experts. But not all of these measures will survive in their current form: some will not be effective, others will not resonate with travellers, others will prove impossible to implement consistently and on a large scale.
Constant attention to cleanliness, even if well-intentioned, can be problematic for two reasons. First, each new announcement raises the bar on hygiene standards, putting industry operators in difficulty to keep pace with initiatives that improve or not the safety of employees or travellers.
Second, travellers interviewed by McKinsey said the fragmentation of new cleaning programs creates anxiety and confusion about what works and who to trust to keep them safe. If one airport claims that its security process is safer than another, for example, why should travellers trust that all airports are safe? Travellers should have faith in the whole system, rather than being anxious about the individual airports within it.
Indeed, attention to health and hygiene only scratches the surface of the changes needed in the aftermath of the current crisis.
Companies can consider three types of interventions to reinvent and reinvigorate travel in the coming years: from basic requirements to opportunities for differentiation to distinctive interventions.
In addition to basic safety initiatives, the second category of interventions can reassure and comfort the public. Brands can differentiate and re-engage travellers with visible, communication-based insights, such as destination city health notifications and personalized notes on the importance of testing and other safety measures. Finally, businesses need to go beyond customer reassurance to excite them, perhaps looking for opportunities to create exceptional travel experiences.
What any business and company can do to increase travel
Now that travel companies are redesigning their travel experiences to address the risks and anxieties associated with COVID-19, they should remember that pain points and trends that existed before the crisis, such as the shift towards more travel, are not gone (such as digital and personalised, and a greater emphasis on well-being and sustainability).
Airports, for example, will have to rethink the customer experience in the coming years, but many have already understood the importance of better service and contactless operations.
Another example is the anxious experience of purchasing flights and hotels, economically significant purchases that often cannot be returned. Simplifying these experiences represents a significant opportunity: before the crisis, McKinsey estimated (in collaboration with Iata, the International Air Transport Association) that the value at stake in making it easier to retail airline tickets could be within 2030 of 40 billion dollars, equivalent to 4% of revenues in 2019.
Many initiatives can make the travel experience better and safer at the same time. Cleaning services, for example, will need to adapt to safety requirements, but reviewing protocols can also reduce environmental impact (for example through less frequent washing of bedsheets during each stay), lower costs, and offer guests greater flexibility (allowing them to choose their cleaning program).
Businesses will also need to look outside the industry to understand changing consumer expectations. Travellers develop preferences and needs based on their interactions with all businesses, not just when they are on the plane or in a hotel.
Businesses should consider, for example, how travellers interact with grocery store clerks, food delivery people, or virtual shopping experts. Of course, the current economic environment makes it difficult to expect companies to do more. Not all good ideas will be economically viable, and there is little room in the system for big launches that then fail.
The good news is that some of the necessary changes will not require a significant capital outlay, but rather a shift in mindset towards customer experience-focused behaviours. Where an investment is needed, developing a clear perspective on which actions to prioritize will require a balance between traveller needs with consistent delivery (perhaps with a smaller organisation) and business case feasibility.
According to McKinsey, there are three principles companies need to keep in mind when redesigning protocols and experiences.
1) Give customers more choice and control
Businesses should enable customers to build their itinerary using smarter, more connected digital tools and make it easier for them to change or cancel their plans. Additionally, companies need to recognize that the factors that promote customer retention can now be changed; short-term uncertainty can mean, for example, that the ability to cancel a booking is more important than choosing a brand or price.
Moments that matter could mean more digital and new places in the customer journey than ever before. Solutions and policies that provide choice and control will help build the confidence and safety needed to get travellers back on the road and in the air.
2) Be human and genuine and personalise the experience
Before the crisis, personalised and unique experiences were a dominant trend. Boutique hotels, for example, were the fastest-growing hotel segment in the United States, with an increase in the supply of 10.6% between 2018 and 2019, compared with overall growth in the hotel supply of 2. 0%.
Travellers are drawn to hotels that give the institution a human face, combining the high standards and consistency of a hotel chain with the personality and privacy of a vacation rental. Large hotel chains have recognized these changing preferences and have launched new soft brands that serve as a collection of boutique hotels.
Travel companies now have the opportunity to take this personalisation a step further, but in a world where the welcoming smiles of yore are now hidden by masks, they will need to find new ways to connect. We heard hotel staff calling quarantined guests at their hotels to find out how they were doing and include notes of encouragement in their packed lunches, and airline pilots addressing passengers before the flight to reassure them and answer any questions about safety.
Achieving this is a matter of balance: mass emails from the head of the company can only go so far, and consumers are already reporting that they are fed up with the “we’re all in this together” message that is starting to ring out empty.
According to a recent Adobe study, 20% more consumers believe brand marketers want to see advertisements on company pages dedicated to COVID-19 responses.
The bar of authenticity in communication and brand behaviour through channels (including in-person) must remain high. As such, communication should be focused on what a company is doing for the traveller, rather than providing superficial platitudes.
Frontline event staff can also be a powerful messenger and are a great source of information for improvements or opportunities that a remote office won’t spot so quickly. Travelling workers have been through a lot since the crisis began, both professionally and personally, and maintaining an open dialogue around their experiences – and acting on their feedback – will be key to ensuring they feel safe and confident.
To move forward, the industry can look back and draw inspiration from an era when air travel was exciting and new, and travel companies struggled to address travellers’ needs, rather than just optimising costs over travel competition.
3) Listen to customers and take an agile approach
We have found that companies that outperform their competitors in customer experience tend to share several characteristics: they have agile, cross-functional teams that develop, iterate with end-users, and seamlessly deploy across contact points.
Companies that work at the highest level on these issues achieve real returns, outperforming their peers by nearly 3 to 1 in terms of revenue and 1.5 to 1 in terms of shareholder return. In this time of great uncertainty and fluid demand, it will be more important than ever to listen to travellers and understand their rapidly changing needs.
While many travel companies have begun to embrace agile principles in IT and digital, these principles are becoming a useful tool across the business as it moves to the next normal. As travel companies run their new reality, they will need to be agile.
When launching a new initiative, for example, these teams can conduct quick one-on-one interviews with customers – even in the hotel lobby or boarding area – which can be used to create and pilot solutions at relatively low cost, using metrics, with quick feedback to correct the course in real-time.
Imagine yourself in your favourite vacation spot. Maybe you are lying on a beach towel, hiking in the mountains or skiing. Your journey there has been different from the past, but the new measures have given you more control and flexibility while ensuring your safety.
The companies that thrive after this crisis are likely to be those who can work with travellers and employees to create distinctive solutions quickly, who will find new ways to enable choice through the customer experience, and who will communicate progress in a way, authentic and transparent.
No crystal ball can tell us what the future of travel will be and we won’t find the right solutions for today’s situation overnight. This will take time, patience and probably many attempts as we learn together.
About Rox Event Staff, Event Staffing Agency
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