If all goes well, we may be on the verge of a new era in travel. Despite the fact that COVID-19 variations may have an impact on conditions, it appears that travellers in some parts of the world will soon be back on the road and in the air, thanks to rising vaccination rates and manageable caseloads. Many countries have already started to ease travel restrictions and reopen their borders.
As the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst effects fade, most signs point to travel returning—with a vengeance—as people want to reconnect, explore new areas, and revisit old favourites. Many people just simply want to get out of the house.
All of these developments should be beneficial to the industry, but organisations that are unprepared may face the fury of a group of leisure-oriented vacationers who are already struggling to keep up with new travel rules. If the industry does not work to expand capacity now, the ecosystem may collapse under the pressure, causing travellers to endure long wait times and higher pricing.
If you don’t want to be one of the unprepared organisation, we’ve put together 4 key areas — building capacity, investing in digital innovation, revisiting commercial approaches, and learning from critical moments— so you can seize value as exceed the needs and demands of your customers.
Four key areas you must consider
Despite these encouraging signs, the tourism industry, particularly in Europe and the United States, will certainly struggle to capitalise on the anticipated surge in travel demand. The whole travel supply chain, from airlines and car rentals to hotels and airport restaurants, is already showing signs of pressure, with wait times at security checkpoints reaching into hours at some airports.
While the process may seem intimidating, clear-sighted travel executives recognise that preparing their businesses for a spike in travellers is also an opportunity to redefine their value propositions and improve their products and services. This will not only restore customer confidence in travel, but it will also enhance loyalty. The following four areas should be prioritised by leaders and executives.
- Bring back capacity
The most important need for all businesses in the travel industry is to restore capacity or, at the very least, ensure that they can do so. Many restaurant contract and temporary workers who were laid off during the pandemic have found new positions and are hesitant to return to their old ones, resulting in a labour shortage. Last year, more than one in ten workers in the hotel industry in the United Kingdom quit. In April, there was still a shortage of roughly two million leisure and hospitality employment in the United States, which was significantly worse than before the pandemic.
Because many planes are currently in long-term storage and employees are still furloughed, global aviation capacity remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Even though reactivating airline pilots and cabin crews, preparing grounded aircraft for service, and rehiring and training service workers can be costly, the cost of doing nothing is greater.
- Invest innovatively to improve the entire customer journey
While funding may continue to be limited, digital operations are still an area worth exploring for over-investment. Keep in mind that the consumer experience is shaped from start to finish, from booking to travel to return home. Travellers today require more assistance, not less. Furthermore, when customers are planning their next trip, certain crucial routes and moments—such as a family vacation, an important business trip, or a last-minute emergency—carry enormous weight in their minds. The predicted volume of traffic over the summer and peak holiday months will only worsen these problems and cause more disruption to the system as a whole.
Manually navigating complications at the check-in desk is extremely inefficient and prone to human error, as evidenced by the long lines at airport checkpoints. Some airports are experimenting with camera-based and AI-based digital technology to monitor crowd densities and cut down on time spent waiting in lines, making the airport experience more comfortable for passengers while also ensuring secure physical separation. Autonomous robots are also being used to maintain hygiene standards; some include UV-light cleaners to disinfect spaces, while others have body-temperature sensors to assist reduce the possibility of virus outbreaks.
- Reimagine commercial approaches
Travel businesses may need to reconsider their strategic plans. Airline passengers and hotel guests will have different profiles: more leisure travellers, later booking periods, and a greater desire for flexible tickets. Booking curves from the past are no longer a strong predictor of present behaviour. To forecast demand and manage price, travel businesses must tap into every available source of information. Customers’ anxiety about today’s increased levels of unpredictability can be eased through flexible pricing methods. EasyJet, for example, now has a Protection Promise programme that allows passengers to make free changes up to two hours before their departure.
- Learn from critical moments—and the wider ecosystem
Aside from optimising procedures and personalising the client experience, firms may use digital analytics to discover ways to differentiate their services. Companies would also be able to spot new trends and glitches before they become nightmares. Industry participants, such as online travel brokers, may be a gold mine of information on how the external ecosystem is changing; their experiences may be important for hotels and airlines looking to form agreements with them.
Individual organisations should maintain a close eye on industry-wide developments while improving their internal operations, looking for possibilities to collaborate. Safety norms and criteria will have to be agreed upon by business and governments. The IATA travel pass is a plug-in that can be used, for example, on airline mobile apps. The app, which is already being tested by a number of airlines as a measure to assure passenger safety, would allow travellers to manage certified COVID-19 vaccine certifications and test results. Governments, in turn, may consider approving the app and integrating it into the flight check-in process.
It’s taken a long time, but multiple elements are coming together that could result in a short-term travel boom, although not all nations and client segments will benefit at the same time. Travel firms can assure that travel is not only back, but better, with ongoing perseverance.
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