Ready for takeoff

As the travel industry braces for surge, brands can win fans for life.

Consumers are craving travel like never before. 

But after a global pandemic, brands must ensure they meet their needs for comfort and safety. 

Travel brands have an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership in this new era, while welcoming back former customers and saying hello to new ones. 

Consumers are packing their bags

Travelers are itching to dust off their suitcases and hit the road. 

More than three quarters (76%) of respondents to an American Express Global Trends Travel Report from March were creating destination wish lists long before they could travel. More than half (56%) said they missed traveling so much, they were willing to book a trip even if they might have to cancel it later. 

Some are calling this “revenge travel” — consumers are gunning to spend the air miles and vouchers that laid dormant during the pandemic. But they also want to be safe; 65% of respondents are planning “vaxications,” or trips after everyone in their family gets their COVID-19 shots.

People also crave time with family. Club Med North American has seen a 17% increase in family-reunion bookings for the holiday season, compared with the 2019 season. This could mean record numbers of people at airports. In February, the TSA said it was looking to hire 6,000 more airline screening officers to meet the coming demand. 

Navigating conflicting demands: adventure & safety 

Vaccinations help, but until we reach herd immunity, safety will remain top of mind for travelers. Many experts believe the way we travel is forever changed. Brands can use the lessons of this past year to improve their services.

Those that prioritize empathy and responsibility are best poised to offer the services that stakeholders expect — and will also earn a place in the hearts of customers, employees and the communities they serve. 

Just look at Airbnb. After lockdowns began, the rental booking platform showed hosts it was sticking by them by creating the Superhost Relief Fund, raising nearly $17 million to support struggling Airbnb superhosts.

At a time when revenues were hardest hit, many travel brands rallied impressively for the greater good. Carnival cruise line offered empty ships to local governments as floating hospitals. The American Hotel and Lodging Association’s “Hospitality for Hope” initiative organized more than 16,000 U.S. hotels to offer millions of rooms for healthcare workers and quarantining patients. The message these brands sent was clear: We’re putting your health, well-being and security first.

The industry continues to innovate around safety. Virgin Voyages will offer contactless food delivery when its ships set sail. The Standard Hotel will introduce STAN, a virtual concierge, while The Solaz in Los Cabos is piloting pre-trip conference calls to handle itineraries. 

Pilot the way forward with purposeful leadership

Brands and customers faced a leadership void, as state and local regulations varied wildly during the pandemic. Brands that have best navigated this confusion have policies and practices driven by purpose and thoughtful, human-focused and proactive leadership. 

The uncertainty of the past year has prompted leaders to think deeply about their brands’ purpose in a changed world. Eighty-nine percent of leaders believe purpose is becoming as important as financial results, and 71% say articulating their personal values is more important to them than it was a year ago, according to a survey by WE Communications and YouGov.

Leaders’ commitment to engaging their stakeholders has also increased. They understand that these times call for rigorous dedication to listening to and acting upon the needs of customers, staff and the wider community. 

Building loyalty beyond this moment

According to the WE Communications and YouGov study, 74% of consumers demand brands take a stand on important issues. When brands make decisions guided by purpose, they create long-term loyalty.

As brands accommodate the coming influx of travelers, they have an opportunity to build long-term affinity. What they do now will resonate long after the pandemic. 

Marisa Lalli is SVP, Consumer, and General Manager, NY at WE Communications

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