The travel industry is rebounding from the pandemic at various rates around the world, depending in large part on local conditions. While people are ready to get out into the world again, eCommerce is still the preferred method to purchase airline tickets, hotel reservations, cruise tickets, rental car reservations and more.
The travel and tourism sector suffered a loss of almost $5 trillion during the pandemic, and even if the summer of 2021 will be a strong boost to recovery, business travel - the staple of the global travel industry - is likely to recover much more slowly (McKinsey & Company). Business demand has changed fundamentally with companies’ realization that much can be done remotely, via Zoom and other online meeting platforms. If we look at previous recessions, such as the GFC in 2008 and 2009, business travel took 5 years to recover to the pre-recession levels. So for now, the travel market is a leisure market.
This structural shift changes how travel companies need to go about attracting, converting and retaining customers. It is critical for travel brands to provide personalized customer experiences online to sell tickets or secure reservations. However, increased global privacy regulations, new data collection policies and the demise of third-party cookies makes personalized marketing more difficult to execute.
One of the key solutions travel companies can activate in the years to come is to adopt data- driven segmentation and targeting strategies. That means leveraging data capabilities to support advanced digital marketing, segmentation, targeting and real-time personalization.
Leveraging first-party user data will be key in 2021 and beyond. And even though the travel industry generally tends to have some of the most robust loyalty programs, so is in better shape than most industries, it is still crucial for travel companies to personalize travelers’ online reservation experiences with the help of first-party observed data. So, which are the best solutions to improve customers’ online experience thus capitalizing on the pent-up demand from travelers?
Since the market has changed with the pandemic, travel companies should start analyzing their customer behavior and determine if their buyer personas have changed. People likely now have different needs, different problems and importantly different budgets. Personalizing the online experience with timely messaging and contextual targeting will be extremely important.
AI and machine learning coupled with behavioral segmentation can be used to better understand purchase patterns and user behavior of those who travel through a company’s website, to offer better destination suggestions, flight schedules, among others. For example, airline companies with these solutions can improve the user experience by promoting a new cabin, offering alternative airport routes, or different travel dates when a traveler selects a flight.
Consumers today are looking not just for the best deal, but also for convenience and increased functionality when they make a reservation online, as well as the ability to receive useful updates. People value updates on trip status, price alerts and discounts, as well as reminders of bookings in progress. Travel companies’ websites suffer high abandonment rate due to the high value of reservations. Thus, understanding users’ behavior and delivering real-time personalized messaging will reduce abandonment and consequently boost conversions, and revenue.
Travel companies have a great opportunity to rethink their digital assets and strategies to adapt to this “new normal.” Keeping these simple suggestions in mind, maybe you’ll discover that you don’t need just to focus on attracting new customers, but instead you should also start better leveraging your existing visitors and customers.
Jeff Bezos said, “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer,” and this is very true today in the post-COVID travel world.