Now more than ever, the value proposition of a travel advisor has risen to the fore, as travellers grapple with an extremely fluid travel environment, a great deal of uncertainty and new complexities in the travel journey, introduced as a result of COVID-19.
While the pandemic has certainly hit the financial health of travel businesses, it has positioned the travel advisor at the heart of managing an increasingly complex travel environment. Not least because of heightened demand for traveller safety and accurate information to ensure travel with peace of mind.
In a confusing COVID world, travel advisors provide tangible value – their strong value proposition acknowledges the massive potential of technology, alongside the importance of human intuition, expertise, and empathy.
Here are 4 things customers need from their travel expert in a COVID world:
1. Provide omni-channel interfaces with online communication
For travel agencies to develop a strong value proposition, they must focus on the customer experience using an omnichannel approach and next-generation travel technology, backed by a team of expert consultants. Implemented and integrated effectively, and this will lay the foundation for long-term relationships with customers.
An omni-channel approach seamlessly integrates communication and services across all platforms. The messaging, objectives, and design of these multiple channels, accessed from any device, must be connected, consistent, and proactive.
It is essential that travel experts proactively engage with the customer when they are most likely to need assistance. There are several customer-critical moments, but the most common and essential for the travel industry is when a potential customer starts booking a flight or reserving a room.
This is known as a ‘moment of truth’ – whereby the site visitor intends to become a customer. During that moment, the travel advisor should assist them in their purchase and pre-empt points of confusion, friction, or lost interest by offering assistance to the customer in real-time.
Today’s customers value two-way communication – which means that the travel industry has the task of ensuring there are adequate and accessible channels and forums through which customers can express themselves. Giving them this space helps foster loyalty and an environment of mutual respect and trust between traveller and travel advisor.
Likewise, the benefit of two-way communication for travel advisors is profound. Communication that originates from customers supports a positive feedback loop, in which the more they interact, share personal data, and provide reviews, the more a travel brand can tweak and improve its offering for that specific customer. Here once again, technology allows this to occur on a large scale, and at every step of the customer journey.
2. Invest in consultants’ training, upskilling and knowledge
Today’s customers are extremely savvy at discerning authentic, credible information. To resonate with these customers, agencies must invest in their own people – providing advisors with the resources and time to expand their experience and knowledge.
This includes upskilling, learning new technologies, and getting access to accurate, up-to-date information. Advisors who themselves are empowered with information, are in a better position to create true value and build rapport and trust with their customers.
However, travel advisors understand better than most that the travel industry is constantly and rapidly evolving, trends emerge and recede, technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and customers’ needs are changing in step.
Travel advisors may not be able to compete with the deluge of information available on the internet. But what they can do is synthesise information to deliver truly relevant and valuable content to their customers. They can adapt content as necessary, to best address the needs of customers, all the while building their reputation as the go-to source for trustworthy, pertinent travel information in times of COVID and beyond.
3. Provide travellers with an opportunity to feel like they’re making a difference through travel
The COVID pandemic has created a sense that there’s an opportunity for us to start again and put greater focus on what’s important, like saving our planet and reducing wastage. As such, customers expect companies to care about the planet and to be accountable for environmental and social impact.
Travellers are increasingly worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible for making a difference. They demand much more from travel than just glimpses of renowned tourist spots and comfort at the expense of the people and place they are travelling to.
They desire authentic experiences and are looking to live like locals wherever they go. They desire supporting travel businesses that care about the environment and the communities that rely on the natural resources of their destination – whether they are travelling for business or leisure.
4. Deliver a more personalised experience through blended technology
Travellers are seeking highly personalised and seamless experiences, all connected through the platform of their choice, whenever, and wherever they find themselves. These platforms must continuously deliver real-time information, tailored to the specific needs of the individual.
The noise online has left them longing for personalisation and belonging. They want individual attention, tailored communication, and customised, co-created products and services. One-way communication, pushed marketing messages, and paid media are out. Authenticity, transparency, and added value are in.
Data is key to understanding customers’ needs and preferences. Travel businesses have the ability to collect more data than ever about customers, thanks to a myriad of online touchpoints like social media and mobile apps. This will enable travel businesses to make better recommendations to assist customers in their decisions.
With advanced information, travel advisors can offer more relevant recommendations. Everything from products to marketing can be personalised, not only optimising the chance of conversion but indeed, establishing a more meaningful connection between advisor and customer.
Technology has empowered consumers to take charge, create their own personal experiences and find like-minded others, encouraging them to feel they have the right to be who they are: unique individuals.
Here are our top Toolkit Tips to reshaping and reframing your travel business to offer the four things your customers need from a travel advisor in today’s COVID world.
- Find sources of accurate information: In this fluid environment and a world of fake news, make sure you are relying on accurate and up-to-date information when advising your customers as the travel expert.
- Look for ways to automate: Identify the routine tasks that fill your day which can be automated or outsourced so that you can focus on the higher-level roles that deliver the most value to your customer today.
- Lead with empathy: Your COVID customer is likely to be unsure, nervous and confused about how travel has changed. Be sensitive to their need for over-communication and reassurance throughout the travel journey.
- Source safe and responsible product: Understand what your third-party supplier is doing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff, their guests and the environment. In addition to contracting with suppliers whose businesses are sound, you want to ensure that they deliver on the heightened demand for humanity.
- Be flexible: The environment is extremely fluid. Be as flexible as you can as travel plans are likely to change as countries reopen in phases and travel businesses are forced to comply with ever-changing government regulations.