Last updated - Jan 13, 2022 07:57 PM
The pulse of the travel industry struggles as 71% of travel advisors continue to walk the tightrope between the shoulder of a new, booming travel season and the reality of shutting their doors.1
In normal times, popular travel destinations around the globe would be gearing up for the tourism season. Places like Skagway, Alaska would be eager to jump into the upcoming summer, waiting for cruise ships to unload thousands of travelers into the Gold Rush-era town. Across the ocean, Bali's tourism season would be in full swing.
Travel advisors would be reaping the rewards of an affluent booking season. Before the pandemic, the global tourism industry was expected to grow nearly 4% but is down 44% instead.2
Times aren't normal. Travelers are ready for a vacation, but the prospect of international travel is uncertain. The vaccine isn't rolling out quickly everywhere, borders can close in an instant, and travelers are experiencing nightmarish refund processes full of grey areas and caveats.
Many travelers don't know if they can put their faith in the travel industry as a result. As industry professionals, we have to do all we can to restore it. After all, tourism accounts for 10% of the global GDP––supporting more than 320 million jobs worldwide.3
This isn't a travel company problem. It’s an industry problem. And we need to come together to solve it with thoughtfulness, intention, and well-researched tools that increase customer satisfaction, safety, and trust.
Here's how travel companies can help restore faith in the industry so people start traveling again:
- Keep inspiring travel
- Improve the customer experience
- Forge new partnerships
- Provide clear solutions for non-refundable cancellations
Keep inspiring travel
How life will appear online is one of the most important factors in choosing a destination. Forty percent of surveyed travelers between the ages of 18-33 said how 'Instagrammable' the holiday would be matters most.4
Content creators have learned how to grab hold of the consumer's hand and gently lead them in their decision-making. They say, "Hey! You need to know about this product (awareness) because it's solving a problem for me (influence)."
They then turn the customer towards brands and say, "Here you go. Now you (the brand) take it from here." Content creators help companies get in front of their audience and grab their attention long enough to build the trust required to make the sale.
Working with creators is an integral part of the reopening process. A creator's vantage point is relatable to their unique audience, showing travelers like them the best way to find and use products and services.
Do you need travelers to come to your resort? A content creator can show all aspects of what it's like to go to your resort during the pandemic, and they'll do so honestly. If they feel as though some things are lacking, they can also give you a heads up of what they'd like to see. Your response to that can show their audience your willingness to listen––a valuable trust-building tool.
Improve the customer experience
"Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the relationship with that company or with that brand."- Annette Franz, founder and CEO of CX Journey5
The customer experience is single handedly the most crucial tool for your business. It's all about the relationship you have with your customers, and it shapes how customers and prospects perceive your brand.
In other words, it's the pathway to lasting relationships and referral business.
According to Skift Magazine, a good customer experience can lead to a 20% improvement in satisfaction, which leads to a 15% increase in revenue through retention.6 In contrast, poor experience with a brand's products or customer service will lead to an erosion of trust. Lower trust and satisfaction equals less return business. And we all know it costs way more to get a new customer than to retain an old one.
No one wants to fill out massive amounts of paperwork, sit on hold for minutes at a time, or repeat themselves over and over. Think about the last time you interacted with a brand that forced you to do massive amounts of work to buy or return a product. Did you go back to them or find an alternative? Did you trust them wholeheartedly?
The harder it is to access your products or services, the more friction your customer experiences. This friction will cause your customers to doubt your ability as a travel provider.
Here are some ways to improve customer experience in today's travel climate:
1. Listen to your customers and hyper-personalize their experience
Each person will have a unique take on what safe travel looks like for them right now. As industry pros, we have to do our best to tailor these experiences to fit their unique needs.
You can do this by talking to your customers, gathering website data, and looking at past behaviors of your clients. What patterns show up among your ideal clients, and what differentiates one client from another? How can you leverage this differentiation to serve these individuals better?
While a scuba diver and a surfer enjoy the ocean, one needs a boat with a licensed captain, while the other needs a safe and even secret surf spot. Looking at the granular details for different types of travelers will yield different results. Making the necessary adaptations can help increase their satisfaction with your brand, resulting in higher retention rates.
2. Make the customer journey safer and better
Pain points in the customer journey existed long before Covid-19, so travel companies need to focus on solutions for these challenges. And they need to do so while increasing safety practices.
Think about it: what challenges did your travel business have before Covid-19? Focus on solving these problems as you add new procedures and best practices for Covid-19 safety.
If you are a tour operator, was there anything between booking and check-in that frustrated or concerned your clients? Address those needs as you make updates for safety requirements. Be proactive in your approach by anticipating the needs of your clients before they think of it themselves.
According to Skift, "most solutions will be digital." A tour operator could install a widget that allows their customers to buy travel insurance right from their website instead of telling their customers to purchase insurance on their own. The tour operator addresses a safety need with travel insurance while improving the customer experience by making it readily available.
Travel partnerships & collaboration are the keys to recovery
"The [travel] industry is only strong as the weakest link. So we have to collectively show customers and our colleagues that we can operate in a safe environment in COVID and to do it responsibly and thoughtfully." --IHG's CEO Keith Barr4
Collaboration among travel companies is essential. By focusing on providing a seamless customer experience across all products and services, the industry can aim for faster recovery. Remember, we're all in this together.
One key relationship is travel insurance companies with travel advisors, tour operators, and online travel agencies. Travel insurance brands often rely on legacy systems that are over-complicated and bogged down by state regulations.
Investing in technology that can handle the ever-changing regulations while promoting a seamless user experience is critical in recovering from the current crisis. This includes making improvements to processes that travel advisors and pro’s use to sell travel insurance.
But travel insurance integrations are not the only partnerships that matter. As an expert in the field, this is the best comparison to draw because of first-hand experience with these old technologies. Many of the existing integrations travel advisors and online travel agencies rely on are clunky and inefficient.
If there are ways to partner with travel tech companies to improve efficiency and strengthen the industry overall, then we need to find them and make them happen. That's going to take lending an ear to industry partners and truly considering their unique perspectives on what it'll take moving forward.
Meaning, listen to one another’s experiences and challenges working with their clients and make industry-wide improvements.
Provide clear solutions for non-refundable cancellations
If the pandemic showed us anything, it's that the cancellation processes of travel suppliers are anything but simple. Granted, the last year has been unique, but it's proven that there are gaps in our cancellation policies that need to be addressed.
From hotels and airlines to Airbnb and other private stays, many companies have introduced clearer policies. But there is always going to be a possibility for non-refundable cancellations, no matter how clear the policies may be.
Give your customers clear solutions to non-refundable cancellations. And there really is only one: travel insurance. This shouldn't be a difficult sell either, because the interest in travel insurance has grown dramatically since the pandemic's early days.
As a matter of fact, travel insurance is forecasted to grow 7.56% in 2021 alone. By 2027, the market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 17.4%.7 These products are a clear solution for non-refundable cancellations and the ongoing risks associated with travel.
But make sure that you choose to partner with travel insurance brands that clearly state what is and isn't covered, so your clients have a good experience from beginning to end.
This has been an ongoing challenge for many travel insurance providers. Legalese in the policies require specific language to be used during the advertising process, but the onus of transferring complicated language shouldn't fall on the consumer—it should fall on the insurance company alone.
This can be done across several different touchpoints, like during the quoting process. But travel insurance brands also need to remind customers of how their policy works after purchase.
Here at WayPoint, we send reminder emails several weeks before departure that remind travelers of the terms of cancellation. It may sound simple, but reminding customers how to use cancel for any reason travel insurance increases customer satisfaction and trust in the brand. They know what they need to do, and the process is demystified.
The burden of the travel industry’s recovery doesn’t rely on one group or organization alone. It will take dedication industry-wide. We have to collaborate to inspire travel, improve customer satisfaction and trust.
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