After months of canceled flights and stringent travel restrictions deemed necessary to limit the spread of coronavirus, the travel industry is starting to bounce back. According to the TSA and reports from hotels, travel is starting to slowly increase. However, a pandemic of this scale is unprecedented in recent history. Without a blueprint of how to proceed, travel companies are forced to innovate their way to recovery.
While it's true that the travel industry has weathered downturns in the past, this situation stands out because the source of the downturn isn't economic. The 2008 recession caused a dip in travel, but this was expected. The travel industry is often hit in times of economic uncertainty as people become more conservative and deliberate about their spending. The only other prominent example of a non-economic lull in travel is the 9/11 attacks.
While the two events aren't directly comparable, they do have some similarities. According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it took close to three years for the airline industry to fully recover from 9/11. Why? Because fear was a major factor in why people no longer wanted to travel. Fear will likely play a similar role in the current coronavirus pandemic, so travel companies should adapt to address this fear. Luckily, this is already happening.
In the IATA industry guidance report, contactless check-ins are suggested as a way for the travel industry to adapt. However, if the industry is to establish a new normal and bounce back quickly, these suggestions must come swiftly and be implemented in much the same way. Travelers need to feel reassured that their safety is paramount, but travel companies also need to be conscious of maintaining a seamless experience. Ease of use must be maintained with every touchpoint, otherwise, frustrations will increase. Cumbersome customer journeys and in-person interactions must be limited or eliminated. So what can be done to help position contactless solutions as a more comfortable and convenient alternative?
Through an innovative and consumer-centric product interface, emails can become much more interactive than they have been previously. With the advent of new technologies that work on any mobile device and are platform-independent, travelers can now check-in right from their email inbox in a matter of minutes.
Everything from managing their boarding pass, to printing and scanning their luggage tag, to checking in at the hotel before they arrive at their destination, can all be handled seamlessly through email. Such touchless travel solutions can improve the overall airline experience and in turn foster greater customer loyalty.
Some airlines require travelers to self-report their health conditions before boarding so that additional procedures can be followed. Because these questionnaires are generally derived from contact tracing methodologies, they present yet another friction touchpoint for customers.
If this questionnaire can be completed and sent securely via email, there's a greater probability that customers will comply since it causes significantly less friction. What could be a time-consuming and stressful task becomes convenient and easy. Airlines are also empowered to follow through with the necessary procedure without causing unnecessary or unexpected disruption on the day.
Customer loyalty is everything in the travel industry. While there isn't a set formula for increasing customer loyalty, there are some key attributes companies can focus on to increase customer satisfaction and keep them coming back. Convenience and safety are two key factors. By implementing contactless solutions, airlines can endorse this loyalty promoting customer safety. For example, a customer who earns loyalty points after a trip could be persuaded to book another trip with the airline and spend those loyalty points on ancillary purchases.
This in turn can improve profitability on ancillary purchases -- where upsells and cross-sells can be bought and transactions can be made entirely over email. With a contactless interface, the customer’s hardwired resistance filters are bypassed and the odds of them adding on additional features through a comfortable and familiar interface are greatly increased.
Contactless check-in, ancillary purchases, and other airline touchless solutions are quickly becoming the new normal. COVID may have temporarily harmed the travel industry, but airlines and other travel services can turn this into a win by adopting touchless solutions that improve the user experience and prioritize safety.
By emphasizing and incentivizing direct booking via interactive email, travel companies and airlines can deliver better customer service, which in turn improves the customer experience and builds loyalty. Through this loyalty, increased ancillary purchases are made, brand awareness is increased, and reputation is improved. Forward-thinking companies can adapt to this new normal, not to survive, but to thrive.