The past twelve months have been unprecedented for travel and hospitality companies. With much global travel grounded, and with customer needs radically changed, the impact of the pandemic has been nothing short of crippling.
The great hope, of course, is that the Summer of 2021 will provide a much-needed boost. And there’s reason for optimism. The amazing progress in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines provides real encouragement that an end to the pandemic is on the horizon.
It’s leisure, not business, for now
The likelihood is, however, even in the best-case scenarios, business travel—the source of so much of the global travel industry’s core revenue—will recover more slowly.
It’s not hard to see why. Companies have realized that much of their business can be done remotely.
This has some significant—and unwelcome—implications for hospitality. To maintain profitability over the short term, hotels need to accept that the travel market is for the time being principally a leisure market—and a structurally smaller market.
That means reorienting around leisure travel—which for many hotels has been a secondary focus until now. It changes the way they need to think about so much of their business—customer experiences, marketing, sales, customized content, loyalty programs, and both the “pre-travel” and “post-travel” phases of the customer journey.
It also means understanding the way the pandemic has changed leisure travelers themselves, refocusing their needs around health and safety, reemphasizing the importance of local communities, and reinforcing the focus on environmental sustainability.
Six essential steps in the pivot to leisure
It’s a big undertaking for hotels accustomed to a steady stream of business travel income. But there are six key steps they can take to clarify the way forward.
- Focus on pre-travel inspiration. For leisure travelers, the early “inspiration phase” of the customer journey is much more important, and hospitality needs to be much more active in this space. That includes using social media and inspiration channels to capture a customer’s desire and trigger their comfort to travel. It also has the added benefit of enabling you to drive those customers onto your own direct booking channels.
- Make sure your marketing has local flexibility. Leisure travel is more susceptible to local needs and preferences, and the brand marketing will need genuine local flexibility to deliver it. Yes, hospitality brands have been trying to do this for years—with varying success. But many still need to find the right balance between promoting the global brand and providing local relevance.
- Rethink loyalty top to bottom. Most points-based loyalty programs simply don’t work for leisure customers. How many holidaymakers make enough trips each year to gain anything more than a handful of points? A few very high-value customers perhaps. For the rest, the program needs to be recentered around other kinds of “emotional” or trust-based rewards, based on a strong understanding of what each customer really cares about.
- Scale up personalized media and content production. Hospitality companies should be aiming for continuous personalized engagement with leisure travelers, whoever they are and wherever they are, around the clock. To do that, they need scalable media and content operations capable of running tailored, data-driven, omnichannel media campaigns in multiple languages across multiple markets.
- Let data drive the business. Data is the key to unlocking the leisure opportunity, enabling advanced customer segmentation and personalization, as well as driving up efficiency and helping prioritize marketing spend. Cloud technology is absolutely central to this, offering scale, agility, real-time data and access to advanced machine learning tools.
- Deliver on what you promise. However strong your other capabilities, if the experience doesn’t match up to the promise, all the hard work reconfiguring marketing, data and loyalty will count for nothing. Delivering on new customer expectations—such as the need for contactless interfaces—will be a big part of this. That means going contactless across the whole end-to-end customer experience, from check-in to in-room automation to general service delivery to check out. There are huge opportunities to build brand affinity if hotels get this delivery part right.
No doubt, many hotels feel like their industry is going through a seismic rupture. That’s why it’s essential to act now. The opportunities for those that can adapt quickly are huge. By refocusing on leisure, for the short term, hospitality companies can find new revenue streams that will help them not only survive but also thrive in the post-pandemic travel market.
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.