This past year has been one of unpredictable demand patterns, with many travelers returning to travel, embarking on their first trip in over a year. All the while, nearly all hospitality companies are focused on getting stable footing while facing mounting labor shortages. In 2022, we're going to see travelers — and hospitality brands — trying to get back into a rhythm.
Some organizations have already adopted more personal and timely ways of interacting with their customers in the midst of the unpredictable environment, while others have resisted change and are still simply trying to do what has traditionally worked over the previous decade of sustained and consistent growth — before the pandemic, that is.
Based on what we see across our internal data set of leading hospitality brands and independents, here are top four predictions for what hospitality companies will need to do in 2022 to embrace the future of hospitality and drive bookings and loyalty.
1. CX FACTORS WILL BE THE TRUE DRIVER OF LOYALTY
While loyalty programs aren't necessarily going to go away, they may lose some of their traditional pull as traveler booking patterns change.
For one, people are less interested in routine, transactional trips. With less business travel taking place, the typical customer has fewer stays on the books far in advance. Flights and accommodations are being booked closer to the travel window, and guests are taking more time considering the type of experiences they're looking for.
When it comes to airlines, travelers are choosing flights based not solely on brand loyalty or to maintain a membership tier, but rather on options that minimize time spent traveling — and offer convenience for the new routes they are flying. For hotels, earning points was previously a heavy factor, and now only one of many factors driving bookings, alongside what are now amplified criteria, such as the property's social reviews, unique amenities, location, and flexible booking options offered.
2. THE FUTURE OF BOOKING WILL REQUIRE ENHANCED CX
Up until the pandemic, most accommodations and airlines had established stringent cancellation policies. Yet these dynamics have now changed in favor of the traveler.
While customers have had good reasons for modifying their travel plans, this has reshaped the booking process. At the same time, people who have the option of working remotely have evolved from taking three-day weekends or vacations planned around holidays to taking longer work-from-anywhere stays.
As these booking patterns have changed, customers are rethinking their plans, validating whether the flights and accommodations they've booked make the most sense. Ultimately, this has resulted in customers experiencing new brands.
Guests are spending even more time on a process that was already highly complex, influenced by everything from Google and Tripadvisor reviews to property photos and geographic proximity to points of interest. Now, they have the flexibility to double down and decide if they want to stay where they booked or find something more unique to their tastes.
The discovery process has increased in scope and has become absolutely critical. For brands, delivering on these growing customer needs is key to bolstering trust.
3. THE ADOPTION OF 2-WAY MESSAGING WILL CONTINUE TO GROW
Texting and other forms of messaging have long been one of the most expedient and personal ways to engage with customers.
Recent Medallia Zingle research found that 80% of customers find it easier to communicate over text for contactless services and an additional 62% said they'd be more likely to communicate with businesses if they had the option to do so via text.
When used effectively, hotels can use two-way SMS to:
- Improve the guest experience by ensuring customers know what to expect before they arrive
- Maximize operational efficiencies by checking in with guests for their estimated time of arrival
- Increase upsells and targeted promotions by offering guests the chance to upgrade upon the day of their arrival, while their excitement is building
4. TRUE EXPERIENCE LEADERS WILL LEVERAGE CONTACT CENTER INSIGHTS
Traditionally, hospitality brands have managed digital channels, the contact center, and the on-site experience separately. But leading companies recognize the need to unify guest information across these areas to ensure consistent messaging, staff training, and experiences.
Having one set of information and policies available through digital and a different set offered via the contact center is no longer acceptable. The onus is on travel and hospitality brands to ensure they're enabling contact center teams with the training and information needed to inspire customers to feel excited for their journey and confident in their booking decisions. During the booking process, digital and contact center operations are intrinsically linked for the customer. It is no longer viable to view the two as separate operations or touchpoints for customers.
Ultimately, the contact center is a wealth of insights and brands that analyze customer interactions to detect trends can enhance CX across the contact center and optimize self-service channels.
Travel will continue to be driven by leisure, a demand for flexibility, and the growing importance of experience. As business and group sectors return, and leisure maintains, the traveler of 2022 will seek out brands that provide a differentiated and authentic experience, set expectations throughout the education and discovery process, and meet customer needs across channels, including SMS, digital, the contact center, and in person.
Delivering on guest expectations doesn't have to mean investing in splashy capital upgrades and amenities. In fact, guests are most likely to care about the basics — seamless service delivery, having their voice heard, and not only having the option to provide feedback but seeing brands make impactful changes in response.