COVID has been the school of hard knocks in 2020 and all but decimated traveller confidence.
Safety is top of mind for everyone, not only when the travel. And, while the industry has worked round the clock to de-risk all touchpoints of travel to allow people to get back on the road, is it enough to boost traveller confidence?
There are a few things we do know. We know for example that people have become more risk averse; they are afraid and in need of more support. People’s habits have been forced to change, very quickly, as a result of restrictions on movement.
Here are 5 things you can do to boost traveller confidence in a time of COVID-19 and beyond:
1. Adopt health and hygiene protocols
Health and safety are likely the greatest priority for travellers right now. As travel is the lens through which the spread of COVID is often seen, suppliers to the travel sector have understood the importance of putting in place stringent safety measures to reduce the fear that travellers may have when boarding an aircraft, taking a transfer or staying at an accommodation.
For travel businesses, this means ensuring that you are working with suppliers who have adopted stringent health and hygiene protocols and who have communicated what these are effectively. Ask your suppliers for details on the programmes that have been implemented and whether these are accredited, for example, through the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Safe Stamp.
Some of the measures instituted by third-party suppliers include biometric-based recognition for check in, passenger screening and security checks, as well as contactless check-in, room entry and in-room services. By getting to grips with what these are for your traveller’s journey you can assure their safety and wellbeing before they’ve even left home.
Communication is the key to restoring traveller confidence, but not just any communication. It is fair to say that travellers may well be overwhelmed with information about COVID-19 they see in media and on social media. This makes it very difficult for them to rely on information they find themselves and, of course, provides the perfect opportunity for you to step in as a travel expert and advisor.
Understandably, for your own business, finding accurate information about what is happening on the ground, the changing entry and exit requirements in source and destination countries, etc., makes this a difficult task, but the opportunity exists for you to add value to travel booking process as they turn to the safety of an expert in very uncertain times.
Provide your customers with the latest verified information to reduce their fear, regain trust and drive demand. Update them with the health and hygiene protocols of the third-party suppliers you have suggested, explain any of the travel requirements and regulations that pertain to their trip.
3. Flexible Booking Policies
With governments worldwide adjusting their outbound and inbound travel policies on a regular basis as their pandemic profile changes, the travel situation becomes rather fluid. No customer who fears they will lose their money because they’re forced to cancel as a result will want to commit to booking travel unless they really have to.
To reduce the fear and drive demand, third-party suppliers must institute clear and flexible booking policies allowing consumers to cancel or change their booking due to COVID. It is essential that, for traveller confidence to return, the travel sector keeps the traveller’s deposit safe by implementing flexible change and cancellation policies. They need to know they have the freedom to change their travel plans if absolutely necessary without being penalised financially.
4. Go Online
Everyone’s behaviour has changed in times of COVID. The same is true for your customers. Travellers may have been grappling with uncertainty during this time, but one thing is certain, there has been a massive shift to mobile and digital. It has been said that travellers vaulted five years forward in digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.
As the pandemic has spread, customer behaviours and preferred interactions have changed significantly. These behaviours will continue to shift, but the uptick in the use of digital services is here to stay. COVID-19 has accelerated the digitisation of everyday life. To succeed in this new environment, travel companies will need to ensure that their digital channels live up to ever higher expectations.
Travel businesses 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 – companies, travel managers, and travellers. They can adapt content as necessary, to best address the needs of these customers, all the while building their reputation as the go-to source for trustworthy, pertinent travel information.
Important to remember is that technology on its own can only do so much. Even the smartest machines will always be lacking that very human-specific trait: empathy. A human end-to-end support strategy is required to answer for all business travellers’ needs. Today’s most forward-thinking travel booking solutions provide a healthy balance of both in what is referred to as a blended technology approach.
5. Understand their needs and fears
In order to deliver this true value and be a point-of-call for reliable information, customers and their needs must be at the heart of the travel business. This requires travel businesses to nurture an in-depth understanding of customers’ needs, circumstances, and context. By identifying their specific concerns, you can develop the most efficient solutions to restore confidence in travel.
Value is another important consideration. Whether travelling for business or pleasure, money has become much tighter than it was going into the pandemic. The phrase ‘conscious consumption’ has emerged where purchasing is centered around basic human needs combined with an aversion to wastage.
As well as being more cautious and selective in their purchasing decisions, customers will practice thriftier and more self-sufficient lifestyles, as they move away from conspicuous consumption and reassess their needs, values and priorities.
Understand where their fears lie and what they need from their travel – the underlying purpose of that travel – and ensure that you deliver on that.