Todd Handcock, president Asia Pacific at Collinson, examines why it is crucial for travel providers to keep the conversation going with customers amid the coronavirus crisis, and how brands can continue to inspire travel and build consumer confidence to drive post-pandemic recovery.
Currently, most travellers who love the journey are grounded. How can travel brands connect with travellers to reassure them, support them, and help them to once more take to the skies when the time is right?
The first few months of 2020 brought a seismic shift to travel. Under the influence of Covid-19, airlines, hotels and every business across the travel ecosystem has had to navigate uncharted territory. With certain Asian markets beginning to return to travel, now is the time to ask: How can we engage, support and assist travel lovers today, to champion the travel recovery of tomorrow?
Acting with continued empathy and flexibility
Asia-Pacific is the world’s top spender for outbound tourism and has the largest aggregate domestic travel market. However, in recent months, Covid-19 has left frequent travellers feeling frustrated and powerless. They have been cut-off from doing the thing they love, unable to plan for the future, and in many cases, prevented from doing their job. During this time, it has been imperative that travel brands provide flexibility with regards to rebooking and cancellation policies.
Many airlines, hotels, loyalty programmes and tourism operators have waived cancellation fees, relaxed loyalty membership earning requirements, and introduced more flexibility on future bookings – providing peace of mind at what has been a difficult time.
We also saw brands empower and reward loyal customers, by way of helping them to manage the challenges of Covid-19. Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific was one of the first to reward their Marco Polo Club members three months of relief points to enjoy when travel resumes; and the airline is allowing customers to make unlimited changes to tickets purchased before June 30 this year.
This type of action displayed loyalty to customers during this critical time, while also helping give back control at a time when many felt powerless. As travel lockdowns begin to lift, and we start to see a return to domestic travel in region, it remains imperative that businesses maintain this amenable, customer-first mindset; so customers feel brands are supporting and championing their return to travel.
Staying engaged and connected
Most brands have been on a communications journey, depending on when and how their business was affected by the outbreak. Now, with the first green shoots of progress being seen in markets like China, brands have the opportunity to get more creative with aspirational and even bold communications – because travel lovers need reassurance and crucial information, as much as they need a reminder that the joy of travelling is not forever lost.
Shangri-La launched a new Always Care. Always Here. campaign, while Lonely Planet is using social media to share cool travel finds – and these are just two examples of how brands can use timely, aspirational communications to stay front of mind and inspire people to keep their love for travel alive.
Diversify and grow
The coronavirus outbreak even spurred businesses to go one step further and add value by diversifying their offering during this unprecedented period. Carousell is working with the Singapore Brand Office to give free exposure to out-of-work creative freelancers, restaurants are transforming into grocery stores, and fashion and beauty brands are pivoting to produce face masks, face guards and hand sanitiser.
For travel organisations who invested in an online earn or redeem platforms – designed to reward customer loyalty – the Covid-led surge in online retail has provided a much needed ancillary revenue stream.
While enabling travel companies to stay in touch with grounded travellers, earn platforms also ensure that their customers can continue to build points and air miles with a range of retailers, to put towards a dream holiday once lockdowns lift.
At a time when many are trying to reduce outgoing spend, redeem platforms have proven popular with consumers wishing to use points instead of cash. With Asia being the world’s fastest-growing e-commerce market, it’s likely the importance of platforms such as these will only continue to grow as the world adjusts to its new normal.
Building traveller confidence in the journey
With markets in Asia already beginning their travel recovery journey, the new normal for now is domestic, followed closely by market-to-market routes. The optimism of Asia-Pacific travellers is fantastic news for global travel’s eventual recovery, but it’s also important to ask – what do customers expect from brands, in order for them to feel confident travelling?
A renewed focus on health and safety should be a priority. One recent survey found that disinfection procedures are the number one concern for nearly 80 per cent of travellers considering a return to the skies, with around three in four respondents also citing a desire for communications on safe places to travel.
These types of concerns have prompted travel industry action, such as Emirates’ decision to do Covid-19 testing for all passengers – and Hong Kong International Airport’s introduction of cleaning robots and disinfection booths.
It will be critical that travel brands not only institute health and safety measures, but also communicate these with frequency, clarity and transparency.
Travel brands can also consider new and creative ways to help travellers feel more comfortable and in-control after this intense period of unexpected disruption.
More collaboration across the travel ecosystem, to give customers an integrated door-to-door journey that feels connected, cohesive and catering to their needs at all times, will be core to this.
Looking towards travel recovery
After Covid-19, the future of travel may look very different than any of us imagined. But there’s no going back; and every business operating in and around the travel sector must take a stake in building that future.
With a cautious resumption of some travel in Asia-Pacific, the time to act is now – as travellers will remember the brands that went above and beyond to reward, reassure and reconnect with them during this difficult period.
Travel brands must take a stand, be kind and be innovative in order to show their customers that they are valued. Engaging travel lovers today will help ensure the travel recovery of tomorrow.