The Next Norm in Hospitality

It’s time to push digital transformation into high gear to reach consumers with relevant information and incentives.

Smoother health screenings, bookings, transactions, modifiable itineraries, and cancellations will help give customsers more flexibility and control, which will fortify their trust in the travel process.

The new world

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was expected that the travel and hospitality industries would perhaps be hit the hardest. With stay-at-home orders and quarantines, people were not keen to hop on planes and travel the world; in fact, they were rarely allowed to. Because of this, it is not surprising that global hotel occupancy is down from 72% in 2019 to 29% in 2020. And even in the next normal, the industry will have to expect some pretty major disruptions.

For one thing, working from home has led businesses to optimize virtual connections and solutions, and so business travel will permanently be less. Additionally, consumers across the board, including those traveling for leisure, will be uncertain about the prospect of travel itself; they will certainly be itching to do it, but they will not be sure about its safety.

In terms of issues within the industry itself, value chains will likely be disrupted; for example, key suppliers might have gone out of business. And due to downsizing and furloughs, numbers themselves within the industry will be down. Companies will have a lot of restoration to do, in terms of their very own talent.

Overall, the travel and hospitality industries will need to reassure both their customers and their own personnel.

The ultimate improvement of travel and hospitality digital channels will involve understanding, interpreting, and adapting to customers’ needs in real time.  

Looking forward

To achieve what they will need to, the industry will need an overarching goal of implementing safety and cleanliness measures across the board, without making the process of traveling itself more of a hassle. If customers decide to get on that plane or book that stay, they will already be wary; having to jump through a hundred hoops to complete the experience will not make them more eager. 

One very important aspect of the sanitation measures will be uniformity. Fragmentation of sanitation measures within the industry will be ineffective because, if consumers don’t feel safe across the board, they will not feel safe at all. Discontinuity will only heighten unease. Additionally, a “cleanliness Olympics” will lead to companies constantly scrambling to keep up, and if standards cannot realistically be met across the board and at scale, then they are not sustainable in the long run. The industry must establish safe, sustainable, advanced measures, and then successfully communicate and promote them. The handling of this promotion will also have to be delicate; customers will want personalization and one-on-one understanding, rather than blanket reassurances. An Adobe study found that brand marketers are 20% more likely than consumers to believe that consumers actually want to see ads on companies’ Covid-19 responses. Travel companies need to find a way to maintain a level of personalization and humanity with customers, by delivering comfort that is specific to them.

In order to further smoothen the travel journey for customers, the travel and hospitality industries will have to improve their digital channels as well. A study done by McKinsey and the International Air Travel Association found that, before the pandemic, the potential value in making airline ticket retail easier was $40 billion by 2030, which was 4% of total 2019 revenues. Following the crisis, this number has only risen. Smoother health screenings, bookings, transactions, modifiable itineraries, and cancellations will all help give customers more flexibility and control, which will fortify their trust in the travel process.

The ultimate improvement of travel and hospitality digital channels will involve understanding, interpreting, and adapting to customers’ needs in real-time. More than ever, the travel and hospitality industries need to be on the same page as their consumers, in tune with their every thought and move; without this empathy and insight, there is no way for the industry to survive post-pandemic. Companies need to monitor consumer reactions to every new implementation, in order to understand what works with the new customers’ psyches and what doesn’t. This will not only allow them to meet the high bar when it comes to the new travel experiences, but it will also help them to go beyond the bare minimum, to regain customer trust, and to thrive in the next normal.

Strategies that can help win customers in 2021

Following are some examples of tactics that worked well for some leading hospitality providers, and will work well for the industry during the pandemic and beyond: 

Robust Website

Establish a renewed focus on the website experience, both to encourage new bookings and to promote self-service capabilities.

Health and Safety

Be transparent about disinfection and sanitization programs and send updated health-related information through digital channels.

Flexible Policies

Inform those impacted by changes in travel restrictions about flexible cancellation policies or suspension of forfeiture of loyalty reward.

Clear Expectations

Use mobile apps to provide instructions on safety precautions expected from both hotels and guests.

Personalized Actions

Inform customers about changes in pandemic-related restrictions and how they will impact their stays.

Contactless Services

Provide kiosks for check-ins and check-outs, digital capabilities for room keys and service, or concierge services, restaurant booking, etc.