“No crystal ball can tell us what the future of travel will be, and we will not find the right solutions to today’s fluid situation overnight. This will take time, patience, and probably many attempts as we learn together. But travel companies need to embrace the challenge to come back better.”
That’s how McKinsey & Company research and consulting firm ended its most recent look at the travel industry, which it titled “Make it better, not just safer: the opportunity to reinvent travel.”
In the piece, researchers, while calling the COVID-19 pandemic a “crisis” for the travel industry, also proclaimed that now is the time for change in the industry, a time not only to improve health and safety measures, but to make travel more exciting to increasingly unsure consumers.
“Travel companies need to excite and attract consumers as well as reassure them,” McKinsey wrote. “To achieve this, leaders should focus on making travel better—not just safer—which means giving travelers more control, offering greater authenticity and personalization, and taking a customer-centric, agile approach.”
While the piece focused on the travel companies and suppliers who will be altering and changing operations as the world moves through the pandemic, there are key points that advisors should look at in order to keep their business healthy, and clients engaged, during the COVID-19 period.
1. Continue improving on pain points that existed prior to COVID-19.
Part of that, McKinsey said, is to recognize that the bad parts of travel, the common pain-points that hung around travel discussions prior to COVID, are still there. The firm mentions better customer experience at airports, which were underway prior to the pandemic, as something that won’t disappear with the virus.
Also, the “high-anxiety purchase journey for flights and lodging, meaningful purchases that often cannot be returned” will remain and could only get worse. That’s an issue, however, that will not be a problem for the consumers who are using a travel advisor to book their trip, or those who choose to use that booking path upon returning to travel.
Some major changes that travel companies are seeking would be difficult to do so in the current economic environment, but “the good news is that some of the necessary changes will require no significant capital outlay but instead a change in mindset toward customer experience.”
2. Listen and be flexible.
In the piece, researchers found that “companies that surpass their peers in customer-experience design tend to share a set of features,” including having teams that design and deliver the kind of customer experience that not only makes consumers feel comfortable, but safe, will be the ones to earn back consumers’ trust the quickest.
“Cross-functional agile squads that break down traditional silos and collaborate more efficiently can help their companies move quickly to address changing traveler needs across the journey,” McKinsey writes.
Being able to replicate the experience that customers want and moving quickly to “address changing traveler needs across the journey” is key for travel companies and advisors alike. The world is going to change, and companies and travel advisors who are ready and willing to adapt to that change will be the ones that succeed.
3. Personalization still matters.
Something else McKinsey believes is going to not only remain important, but proliferate, is the shift to a more personal experience—another boon for advisors competing with OTAs.
“Before the crisis, personalized and unique experience constituted a dominant trend. Boutique hotels, for instance, were the fastest-growing hotel segment in the United States.”
Personalization post-COVID will be taken a step further, as companies are looking for new ways to connect. The piece mentions how some hotel staff were calling first responders who were quarantining in their hotels during COVID, and airlines addressing passengers pre-flight away from the typical pilot script, as some examples of a more personalized experience.
It’s not more marketing, either, as “mass emails from the CEO can only go so far, and consumers are already reporting fatigue around ‘we’re all in this together’ messaging,” instead it is making sure clients know they have a real person on the other line who will go “out of their way to solve traveler needs rather than just optimizing against the competition.”
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Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.