"The customer is always right" - a phrase that stretches back almost a century to signify that, whatever the circumstances, consumers should feel comfortable that their gripes will, at the very least, be listened to.
Fast-forward to the 1950s and consumers had started to understand how commerce and advertising worked, leading advertising guru David Ogilvy to famously proclaim: "The customer is not a moron."
The travel, tourism and hospitality has at least tried to keep in tune with these two slogans.
But the coronavirus pandemic, for all the coverage here on PhocusWire and elsewhere about its impact on the sector, is a global health emergency.
Over 1.2 million people have died, and, by the time The Phocuswright Conference begins, some 50 million people will have contracted COVID-19.
The effect on societies around the world is profound - how we behave, interact with one other, our co-workers, employers and brands, has been radically overhauled... perhaps, in some circumstances, forever.
This change should be at the heart of how the industry attempts to restart and recover - even if any sense of recovery back to pre-pandemic levels of business seems like a two-, three- or even four-year endeavor for many travel operations.
A customer-centric future
There are obviously health-related processes now in play across the entire industry (masks, social distancing, etc.), but this period of reflection and the introduction of new strategies is a prime opportunity to put the customer first in many other ways.
Take destination management and its ability (or not, pre-pandemic) to counter the effects of overtourism. Smart tourism execs should be considering, with effective data modeling, how they can bring back visitors in a way that helps the local economies AND provides a better experience for travelers.
Online travel agencies, with their eye-watering volumes of customers, have an opportunity to correct and then implement many of the things that have irked travelers for years - being upfront about pricing, charges, availability, product descriptions and introducing or modifying loyalty programs.
These should include putting the customer first when it comes to refunds, cancelations and rebookings - rather than solely thinking about the brand. Tough decisions to make, but ones that will ultimately cast any brand in a better light.
The same could also be said for those at the supplier end of the customer experience, such as airlines, hotels and attractions.
At the center of any rethinking of how to understand the requirements and concerns of the customer, mid- and post-pandemic, should be a structured, efficient and easy to introduce the use of data to assist customers throughout their trip, whether it's for leisure or business.
This requires collaboration across business units within a company and between brands in multiple sectors. Airlines can be better partners with airports (and vice versa); hotels can be better partners with OTAs (and vice versa); and attractions can be better partners with destinations (and vice versa).
Many of the elements noted above are being - or have been - adopted by some travel brands, but, again, crises can give rise to a wider, wholesale look at processes across the travel landscape.
In a world where a consumer's ability to explore or do business, using travel as the mechanism to do so, has been severely impacted and will have new elements to consider (such as health and hygiene), brands, industry associations and government have a unique opportunity to do the right thing and put customers in the middle of their strategic prism.
And this, lest we forget the other social (re)awakening during 2020, should be to the benefit of all customers, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or social background.
People (mostly) are not morons.
* Sessions to catch at The Phocuswright Conference 2020:
- The Future of Technology: Digital Transformation Acceleration
- Taking the Conversation Beyond the Middle Seat
- Spotlight: Improvement Needed - Grading the Travel Industry on Diversity & Inclusion
- The Future of Destinations: From Overtourism to Sustainable Tourism
- Futureproofing: Beyond Innovation
- Spotlight & Executive Interview with Steve Kaufer of Tripadvisor: What a Trip - 20 Years of Tripadvisor
- Executive Roundtable: Building Trust and Staying Relevant - Martech to the Rescue
- Executive Interview with Glenn Fogel of Booking Holdings: A Giant Pivot
- Executive Roundtable: Hands Off - When Hi-Touch Means No Touch
- Executive Roundtable: Opportunity in Adversity
- Executive Interview with Peter Kern of Expedia Group: Reinventing the OTA
The Phocuswright Conference 2020
Tickets, program, speaker line-up so far and more.