Why the Travel Industry Is Coming Back

The travel industry is coming back to life. Slowly. And cautiously. But it’s happening even as the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc with our lives. And the travel industry’s rebound offers lessons for other industries about the paramount importance of adapting to customer needs with an experience that builds brand loyalty.

The signs of a rebound are emerging in little dribs and drabs. Consider Airbnb’s comeback. The company was on the brink of collapse earlier in 2020 as the worsening pandemic shut down most travel. But as the year unfolded, it turns out people did want to travel again, but differently, favoring shorter trips to smaller towns. Airbnb’s business picked up again, and the company launched a successful initial public offering in December.

Other signs have emerged in many different areas of travel too. Air travel, while still far below pre-pandemic levels, reached a pandemic high over New Year’s weekend (the downside: concerns that increased air travel could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus). And the cruise line industry is looking up, too. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted a “No-Sail” order for the cruise industry on November 1, Royal Caribbean sought volunteers to test out its safety protocols on simulated sailings before they get set to resume passenger cruises. More than 100,000 people signed up immediately, a stunning show of brand loyalty. 

Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that a new ship, the Mardi Gras, will set sail in April. The Mardi Gras will be the first cruise ship with a roller coaster, among other customer experience innovations. As reported in Business Insider, Carnival Corporation, the world’s biggest cruise company, said that reservations for cruises scheduled during the second half of 2021 compared favorably with the advance bookings it received in prior years. Royal Caribbean Group said more than 65 percent of its 2021 bookings were new reservations, rather than those rescheduled from this year.

The travel industry is far from out of the woods. Its recovery will take a very long time. But as we noted in our recent Revolution of Rising Expectations report, we believe travel/hospitality is one of five industries poised for a comeback in 2021. Why? Because:

1. Successful travel brands put the customer experience first

In the cruise line industry, a strong focus on the customer experience has created a halo effect that has served the industry well during hard times. Cruise ships are renowned for showering passengers with amenities and incentives to make repeat visits. Each cruise ship is like a floating brand with its own personality and experiences, as the Carnival Cruise Lines Mardi Gras ship with its own roller coaster demonstrates.  

And roller coasters on ships are only part of the story. Cruise lines are getting more creative and immersive with digital, too. Royal Caribbean has doubled down on digital over the last few years, launching AR experiences like Expedition TWO70, and more recently a suite of touch-screen and motion-sensor based games to augment children’s play areas on-ship.

2. Travel brands know how to adapt their customer experience — quickly

The travel industry can also teach other industries about being adaptable with their customer experience. Airbnb’s turnaround didn’t happen by accident. The company’s own data scientists detected an uptick in searches for short-term travelers, and Airbnb quickly responded to shifting consumer preferences by changing its website and app to feature cabins, beach houses, and other properties near where they lived. Airbnb featured online experiences that people could enjoy from afar, which appealed to people who were not traveling, such as a magical virtual tour of London or cooking with a Moroccan family. By adapting, Airbnb saw a gradual improvement in revenue that helped save the company.

The industry has also quickly adapted to travelers’ heightened concerns about health and safety. Hotels adopted practices that have now become standard everywhere, such as publishing their Covid-19 cleaning protocols on their websites and in rooms and providing contact-free services. Other travel industry brands have adopted similar practices. For example, Enterprise Car Rental had to quickly pivot certain aspects of their services to address the needs of their customers. In particular, the car rental check-out process often involves human interactions such as in-person paperwork, key pick-up and car inspection. In an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19, Enterprise adopted some far-reaching changes. Working closely with the Enterprise team, we helped them pivot their services to give customers the option to complete the process virtually to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

The Power of Customer Experience

It’s all about the experience. Always. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your brand build digital experiences to engage families at home, contact Asher Wren to schedule a free consultation.