After more than seven months of a global pandemic, the business world is doing its best to get back to some sense of normality. However, the travel and tourism industry has been hit especially hard because of sinking consumer confidence, and in some cases, complete bans on travel, which has severely impacted the majority of travel businesses across the globe. To put the impact in perspective, the U.S. Travel Association estimates that since the beginning of March 2020, the pandemic has resulted in the U.S. travel economy cumulatively losing more than $386 billion so far. And more recently, the Association cites that in just one week (ending September 19, 2020), U.S. travelers spent $12.1 billion reflecting a 43% drop from last year’s levels.
Although website traffic and travel bookings are down right now, there is reason for travel and hospitality companies to be optimistic: some countries and regions in the U.S. are slowly easing restrictions which will result in growing demand by consumers who have been stuck at home for months and are eager to rebook the vacation they had to postpone.
Making good use of downtime
Given the circumstances, travelers are much more likely to vacation closer to home by taking shorter road trips. However, that will change. Rather than waiting until demand explodes, travel, tourism and hospitality companies should start preparing for the COVID-19 rebound now. Driving new bookings is a tricky situation right now, but by putting traveler safety and security first, brands can offer online experiences that both assure customers and let them know that their health and safety are your top priorities now and going forward.
This is also an ideal time for travel brands to “plant seeds” with customers about future trips. The desire to travel may be greater than ever, so many consumers will use this time to browse for travel offers and deals -- even if they can’t book and confirm right now. This presents an opportunity to encourage visitors to build a trip “wishlist” and to build excitement about future travel experiences in advance until they’re ready to book and purchase.
Travel brands should devote time and resources during the current “downtime” to build the three following experiences:
- Highlighting bookings from the end of the year - While there is currently a lot of uncertainty around travel, many consumers will be more confident booking travel for 2021. Airlines are banking on this which is one reason they released their 2021 flight schedule early. Tip: Use messaging on the homepage to remind customers that they can book travel for next year to gently nudge them to secure a new booking. This is a relatively low-risk purchase, especially if cancellation or rebooking is free.
- Top trending last minute offers – A social proof experience shows visitors the trips that are most popular and trending. This is a proven strategy that dynamically updates and can drive an increase in bookings through a combination of urgency, scarcity and reassurance messaging. Tip: Show trending bookings around the types of vacations that travelers are most likely to be interested in post-pandemic, including last minute offers, staycations, family-oriented offers and long weekends away.
- Invest in customer relationships with loyalty programs – For the brands with loyalty programs, it’s important to communicate how much they value their customers by letting their members know that they have their full support during this unexpected and unprecedented (at least in our lifetimes) moment in history. Tip: One way to show customers you appreciate their business is by suspending the expiration of loyalty points and extending their loyalty status. Offering the option to donate their points to a charity or to frontline workers is another way to show customers they’re valued as well as for the essential workers putting their lives on the line to help those most impacted by COVID-19.
Despite the challenges facing travel and tourism companies right now, there is reason for optimism. Brands can use pandemic-related downtime to prepare the online booking experience for the eventual rebound in business and vacation travel. It’s important to remain optimistic (and patient) during this very difficult time, and more importantly, to meet the needs of customers by being responsive and flexible in a wildly volatile situation.