In recent years, there have been huge strides in customer experience within the travel and leisure industry – and it is only by carrying on down this route that the sector will continue to recover and move into a prosperous future.
As interactions within the travel and leisure industry become increasingly digital, expectations of smart and sophisticated experiences rise higher. Today’s consumers demand personalisation, effortless self-service and immediacy, and their changing behaviours are impacting the customer journey.
Travel and leisure brands must adjust their strategies to capture consumer intent outside of classic performance channels, building more direct relationships with their audiences.
Responding to new consumer priorities, behavioural changes and rising expectations will be key to unlocking new potential for innovation and growth. With travel being a sector where consumers are keen to continue their digital adoption post-pandemic, there are valuable opportunities to create unrivalled, seamless end-to-end journeys.
Ultimately, companies must develop a more customer-centric way of doing business to recapture the joy of travelling and socialising. So how can they do this?
Go for direct engagement
From deciding on a holiday destination, to selecting a restaurant to book, consumers are increasingly turning to social media and mobile apps, rather than search engines, to help inform their travel and leisure plans.
TikTok in particular has become the social media platform of choice for many. The hashtag #travel has had 143 billion views and research suggests that 34% of travellers were influenced by TikTok in 2022. In hospitality, #dineout has received 16.5 billion views.
Brands across the travel and leisure industry are capitalising on the direct engagement opportunity to reshape the customer journey. Booking.com launched its first TikTok-centric campaign, called TikTokMadeMeBookIt in July 2022, aiming to inspire people to travel, create positive brand interactions and cement perceptions of the brand as an industry leader.
Consumers increasingly want to be treated as individuals. But for today’s travel and leisure customer, personalisation doesn’t go far enough. What they demand is hyper-personalisation.
Hyper-personalisation uses technologies like real-time data, predictive analytics, AI and machine learning to tap into individual consumers’ wants and needs. But to get more personal, companies need to know more. And travel and leisure consumers are increasingly willing to share their data to receive the improved support and experiences that they crave. Organisations can capture this using behavioural insights related to, for example, location and destination, food and drink orders or preferred dining and room choices. This way, a company can personalise every aspect of the customer’s experience, making them feel recognised and appreciated.
As Retail Week found, “Broad-brush tailoring is firmly a thing of the past. Hyper-personalisation is now the must – meeting customers’ every taste and preference across every channel and adapting to change in real time.”
But though many companies already have large amounts of data available to them, not all have complete control. Addressing this should be a core focus in the move towards harnessing the power of hyper-personalisation.
Respect their values
The impact of the travel and leisure industry is something that consumers are becoming more concerned about, from air travel emissions and over-tourism to food miles and waste production. Though the cost-of-living crisis is currently the immediate priority for many, sustainable values are starting to exert more of an influence on decision-making, with this trend set to rise in the coming years.
Many studies bear this out. 41% of people say they will choose a travel company with a better sustainability record over another, up from 19% in 2011, according to the ABTA Holidays Habits Report 2022. And Expedia Brands found in its Sustainable Travel Study 2022 that two in three consumers want more sustainability information from lodging and transportation providers to help them make informed decisions.
Expectations of sustainable travel and leisure are rising, with 54% of people saying the travel industry should operate in a greener way than before the pandemic, according to ABTA. Yet research by Booking.com reveals that 49% of global travellers believe there are not enough sustainable travel options available, and a study by Nutritics shows that only 35% feel they have the right information to make sustainable food choices when eating or drinking out.
Businesses must therefore not only develop sustainable practices, but also focus on how best to convey this information to consumers. Sustainability should be a transparent and easily identifiable part of the decision-making process, so that it becomes an easy choice for all.
As the sector is recovering – and travel returns nearly to the pre-pandemic level – it will be important for the travel and leisure industry to take steps that embed a smooth customer journey, long-term inclusivity, sustainability and resilience, as it continues to face evolving challenges and risks. Despite positive trends, the sector will still face many hurdles on its way to recovery. These include constraints, labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, industrial actions and more.
Just like any other customers, those of the travel industry have evolved with time. They are well informed and demand total value for their money. Therefore, customer-centricity will stay as one of the industry’s main differentiators – and in an industry that is so highly dependent upon customer loyalty and word of the mouth publicity, a customer-first approach, assisted by latest technology and AI, will always be crucial.
We’ve commissioned a series of reports – focusing on travel & leisure and other industries – that will help you discover the challenges of the future customer in terms of how you can best connect, support and transform their experience to gain competitive advantage.