Everyone in the travel industry knows that the COVID-19 pandemic brought non-essential travel to a screeching halt. And that trend will likely continue in the coming months. In fact, estimates show that the travel industry could lose up to $318 billion in 2021 due to grounded air travel.
As cases continue to spike, travelers are hesitant to repack their suitcases and the industry is struggling to stimulate bookings. But there is a glimmer of hope: a recent Phocuswright report found that travelers are cautiously optimistic about some near-term travel, while most are considering booking in 2021. However, they’re prioritizing health and safety, access to medical care and worry about quarantine requirements.
While the travel industry certainly can’t predict quarantine mandates, companies can capitalize on demand by meeting customer conditions. Here are critical steps brands can take to turn dreamers into travelers.
Be there for every step of the new (on-a-budget) booking journey
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the entire traveler journey. Now, trip research starts sooner, but travelers are waiting to book closer to departure. Previously spontaneous travelers aren’t booking as often, and travelers over age 55 are no longer booking their trips well in advance.
Only a handful of travelers expect to keep pre-COVID booking windows. This means travel providers must provide continuously updated information, and be ready for tight booking windows. Most travelers will continue to book using the same platforms, so providers must ensure all information and rates are current across all marketing and distribution channels.
In addition to timeline changes, budgets have decreased, particularly in the 18 to 34 age group. Budget-conscious travelers booking shorter trips at more affordable destinations and 26 to 38% are cutting attractions and in-destination activities.
It will be up to brands to build campaigns around these new timelines while focusing on driving value for more thrifty travelers. Understanding their wants and needs every step of the way will not only accelerate recovery, it will win future customer loyalty.
Woo frequent domestic travelers today and international tomorrow
Many travelers are making plans to hit the road - but closer to home for now. Due to unfamiliar health systems, regulations and the fear of being stranded, they aren’t quite ready to cross international borders.
Remember that the period between booking and stay creates a clear opportunity to build comfort and confidence.
With one in four travelers already prepared to travel domestically and nine in 10 ready within the next year, brands must focus immediate efforts on local markets. However, long-term initiatives should still promote international travel. In Europe 61 to 73% of travelers will feel comfortable with international travel by July 2021.
As restrictions are lifted, frequent travelers, or those who took three or more trips in 2019, will be the first to venture out. Despite hesitance to go abroad, travelers are open to going to diverse types of destinations. Smaller towns and rural destinations will be the top choices, while urban and suburban getaways will be more popular within the next six months.
The biggest factor travelers will consider is infection rates at their destinations of choice, even with vaccines available. Beyond safety, travelers are also waiting for the quarantine mandates to be lifted.
Spell it out
Making travelers feel comfortable holds the key to driving bookings. Formal policies, including health protocols, government advisories and open borders, indicate it’s safe to travel. In addition to health and safety protocols, losing money is the biggest concern for potential travelers. Flexibility is key, and 83 to 92% of travelers across all markets want clear and easy-to-find information about refunds, cancellations and rebooking options.
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In addition to clear booking information, travelers also want to be informed about safety, including cleaning, sanitation and PPE requirements. Offering clear, detailed material will make travelers feel comfortable every step of the way.
Remember that the period between booking and stay creates a clear opportunity to build comfort and confidence. Be sure to leverage one-on-one channels like email and instant messaging to provide relevant local updates and ideas to make their upcoming visit safe and unique.
Go the extra mile
There’s never been a better time to emphasize the “hospitality” part of the hospitality industry. Fifty-nine percent of travelers want to know that travel companies consulted health authorities when enacting new COVID policies. In keeping with guidelines, travelers want staff and other travelers to wear face masks, temperature checks, reduced capacity inside enclosed areas and heavy sanitation protocols.
While baseline measures are an excellent stat, now is the time to go above and beyond. Hotels, airlines and attractions should provide PPE to guests and deploy contactless measures, such as in-app room keys.
In addition, travelers believe air filters are essential for transportation and also feel more comfortable with time entry for attractions. Travel brands should evaluate every step of the on-site customer journey to ensure they’re putting their most hospitable, and safe, foot forward.
Bouncing back from a global pandemic is the biggest challenge the travel industry has ever faced. But the good news is that travelers want to get back to exploring as soon as it’s safe. By taking COVID-conscious steps, travel brands can pave the path to recovery with a safe, hospitable experience.