From the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China, the travel industry is at an impasse. On one hand, COVID-19 brought the sector to a near standstill. On the other, the pandemic’s shockwaves have made consumers reassess their priorities: more toward health, hygiene and safety than simply focusing on price and destination.
Some travel and hospitality brands have fared better than others in recent months. While many have provided admirable public support throughout the crisis—such as hotels “medicalizing” their facilities to support healthcare efforts—they have not been immune to criticism. The latest wave of Accenture research found one in three consumers expressing dissatisfaction with travel companies’ response to cancellations and refunds, for example. Meanwhile, a quarter believe that new health and hygiene measures are not being communicated properly.
In this climate, regaining consumer favor needs to be an urgent priority. Just 19% of consumers feel confident about travelling in the coming months, so clearly communicating the steps that are being taken to protect them is key to reassuring consumers and to rebooting growth.
What does this new world order look like? And how should travel and hospitality companies prepare for the post-pandemic world?
As the crisis begins to recede, brands are looking to reassess their services, realigning core offerings with travellers’ changing priorities.
As part of this, they will likely accelerate their digitization activities, shifting to contactless interactions as the norm, such as e-payments only, facial recognition technology to minimize interactions, self-service customer service, and greater use of predictive analytics and automation to personalize experiences.
These decisions and changes will have long-term consequences and may determine the brand’s survival so it would be a mistake to think of them as a short-term solution. In fact, the shockwaves of the crisis will be felt for many years to come, marked by long-term uncertainty around cost and business viability, and survival calls for bold, widescale innovation. With that in mind, we believe that the following actions will be essential:
- Prepare for a shift in customer expectations
As they start to travel again, customers will expect health precautions to be more prominent than ever before. In practice, this may mean brands introducing health screenings in much the same way that airports carry out security checks. Brands should also focus on using passenger and guest information to build confidence, such as by providing practical advice around ensuring personal safety while interacting with other travellers, allowing the business to show how it is sensitive to public health concerns.
- Pivot from operational to customer optimization
Not only will operators need to meet new hygiene standards, they will be expected to put customer needs over operational efficiencies. This may not require all businesses to start their operating models from scratch but will force many in the industry to rethink how they accommodate traveller preferences and meet changing hygiene procedures, cancellation policies, and norms of human engagement.
- Unlock new strengths in employees
While travel and hospitality brands will depend more on technology, they should take pains to prepare their employees for unfamiliar challenges. They could, for example, ensure they have cross-training capabilities and scalable infrastructure to expand training capability in line with changing demand. And they should remember that their customers will, more than ever, expect to see them acting like responsible employers and making their people’s wellbeing a priority.
- Prepare for deeper change
With so much change afoot, brands are adjusting their services at short notice; mergers and acquisitions will likely increase, and the number of competitors in certain markets may decline. Travel and hospitality providers will need to continue providing fair-priced services, while potentially winding down parts of their operations. We could also expect governments to increase their participation and eventually introduce “fair price” regulation. Brands should understand how changes like these might affect them and consider how they might take action in response.
Looking ahead: A brighter future for travel?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed every aspect of the travel and hospitality sector. In the short-term, companies must continue to make fast—and difficult—decisions to balance consumer confidence with business sustainability.
But, looking beyond the immediate future, brands have cause to be optimistic. We can expect the new focus on technology innovation, as companies bolster their resilience and competitiveness, to catalyze more general advances, such as personalization and hyper-relevant marketing. Moreover, a new focus on environmental sustainability and social responsibility will become part and parcel of the mix.
At an industry level, communicating the positive momentum to customers is critical. Brands should be clear that they are not just bringing back the old industry—they are actively building something better.
About the author
As the Global Travel Industry Sector Lead for Accenture, Emily Weiss is responsible for driving the growth of Accenture's Travel business across Hospitality, Aviation, and Travel Services through the delivery of transformational industry solutions.