Sweeping lockdowns impacted many industries last year, but travel and hospitality was undoubtedly one of the hardest hit. In the US, travel spending dropped 45% in 2020 as customers and brands alike went into crisis mode, canceling trips and staying put for most of the year. Internationally, travel spend in 2020 was just $83B compared to $233B in 2019—a drop of 64%. Travel and hospitality brands all around the world felt the squeeze.
Now, with vaccine rollouts and the easing of regulations allowing people in many parts of the world to venture out again, travel is picking up. And after six out of ten travelers had to cancel a planned leisure trip in 2020, there’s a huge pent-up demand to hit the proverbial road. Paired with global cabin fever, this could make for a record travel year.
Travel and hospitality brands are uniquely positioned to bounce back stronger than ever. But to make the most of this golden opportunity, your CX needs to be able to handle the onslaught, put anxious travelers’ minds at ease, and deliver the level of service that will keep them coming back. Let’s look at what travel brands can expect in a post-pandemic world, and how you can prepare to shine.
On the horizon: Surging plans and changing needs
After over a year of collective stress and being stuck in one place, travellers are more excited than ever to go on vacation. According to a recent US survey, 75% of people plan to travel in 2021. And those planning to travel have 2.5 trips planned on average. While 71% of people now feel comfortable flying, many also plan to take road trips and visit local destinations. And many expect to stay longer and spend more money than they usually do.
The 2020 trend of taking a “flexcation,” which combines a change of scenery with the newfound flexibility of remote work, will also continue this year: 67% of families that took a flexcation last year say they plan to do so again. Business travel is also starting to make a comeback as employees feel more comfortable flying, although it’s still trailing behind personal travel. And as remote work begins to taper off, many people are looking to use up vacation days they couldn’t take last year. Others are looking for one last hurrah before they return to the office, booking so-called “vacci-cations”. It all adds up to good news for the industry.
Get ready for questions. Lots of questions.
The uptick in travel means brands should prepare for an influx of interactions—and that includes a lot of questions. For many people, this will be the first time they’re traveled in close to two years. Anxiety and emotions are running high for both customers and agents. And health and safety concerns are still top of mind.
You can expect an onslaught of questions regarding safety protocols, trip cancellations, refunds, and more, as nervous travelers are looking for extra assurances. It’s imperative for your brand to meet these questions and make customers feel confident, now more than ever.
One thing brands can do to mitigate the potential for repetitive COVID-related questions is to be proactive. Don’t wait for customers to ask about common concerns. Put the information they’re looking for on your website, social media channels, and in customer communications.
An intelligent chatbot can proactively reach out to customers who are browsing or booking, answering questions on the spot and quickly laying to rest any concerns that might prevent them from making a reservation. Being proactive and upfront will also help your brand stand out from the competition, strengthening relationships and building long-term loyalty.
Focus on simplicity
Even before the pandemic, travel customers liked to do things themselves. In 2020, 80% of travelers made their bookings directly online. We can expect to see that trend continue or even increase.
An automation-first approach will allow customers to self-serve while also helping travel and hospitality brands keep up with rising demand and seasonal spikes without increased staffing. Frontlining brand interactions with an intelligent, AI-powered chatbot will give your customers immediate answers to many common inquiries as well as shortening wait-times for those who require agent assistance.
That said, the right automation platform lets customers do a lot more than answer basic FAQs. Customers can complete tasks such as creating a new booking, modifying or updating an existing one, or even canceling a trip if their circumstances change—all in an intuitive, conversational UI and without waiting to speak to an agent.
Making it simple for customers to serve themselves also gives brands an opportunity to increase revenue by suggesting upgrades, add-ons, and other upsell and cross-sell offerings. Plus, it increases your agent productivity and overall efficiency without increasing contact center seats.
Embrace the power of personalization to show your customers you care
Today’s customers have come to expect a personalized CX just about everywhere. In the travel world, personalizing CX provides multiple benefits. For one, offering customers personalized suggestions and promotions can help to increase conversion rates 10-20% as well as increasing revenue per visit. Plus, it’s a great way to show empathy and understanding—something we could all use a little more of these days.
With a holistic view of your customer, you can see their entire interaction history with your brand and personalize the CX at every point of the look-to-book process. Integrate your CRM platform with your automation solution to show customers relevant content such as airfare deals to a preferred destination, hotels that suit their taste, or things to do in the place they want to visit. At the same time, you can arm your agents with all the context they’ll need to pick up the conversation and resolve inquiries as quickly and favorably as possible.
Meet customers where they are
Even more than other industries, travel and hospitality brands need to be where customers are—because customers can be anywhere. This means making it easy to connect on whichever channel they prefer, from social media and websites to native apps and messaging platforms.
Preference varies by region, as does language. Globally, WhatsApp is the most-used messaging app. Facebook Messenger is more popular in North America and Australia while WeChat reigns in China and Line has the lion’s share in Japan.
No matter where your customers are, you can meet them on their preferred apps and touchpoints with an omnichannel AI platform. This will also make it easy to serve customers in different languages without opening contact centers across the globe. Messaging on mobile is the new go-to for both personal and business communication, so be sure to optimize for mobile apps.
Allowing for asynchronous communication also makes life easier for customers by letting them “park” a message anytime and return to the conversation when it’s convenient. Just one more way to simplify your brand interactions and make the CX seamless.