How Will the Travel and Hospitality Industry Survive When We’re All Grounded?

by Jennifer Yeadon Cheetah Digital

Cheetah Digital have been covering different industries and the effects COVID-19 is having on them, as well as some advice on what brands within these industries can do right now. So far, they’ve talked about restaurants, retail, CPG, and covered loyalty and messaging. Jennifer Yeadon, Content Marketing Strategist at Cheetah Digital, will now cover travel and hospitality.

With travel restrictions in place across the UK, travel bans in many countriesmajor events cancelled, and business travel all but stopped, there’s not much need for flights, hotels, rental cars, or destinations.

The effect of this standstill with no end in sight is devastating. It’s devastating to the brands and tourism destinations that have to close, and it’s devastating to the workers who have to choose between collecting a paycheck or their lives. According to gov.uk, 18.2 per cent of working Brits are employed by the hospitality industry. And within the travel industry, it’s expected that 13 million jobs will be lost in Europe due to the coronavirus.

Truthfully, there is no amount of marketing strategy that could save those jobs right now or turn the outlook of the industry around immediately. It relies entirely on an influx of people giving into their wanderlust, businesses booking travel, and worldwide events; all of which can’t happen currently. So, this post will be offering advice in the way we think is best — taking action now that will set the stage for the future, when we are all free to explore, visit, and enjoy life once again.

First, realise consumers are having a difficult time

Airlines, theme parks, hotels, and ground transportation are haemorrhaging money right now, so why should they be focusing on their customers instead of themselves? Because right now consumers are scared; according to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, consumers from all over the world will judge brands based on their reaction to COVID-19. The brands that are, right now, focusing on “people, not profit” are going to be the ones that stick in consumers’ minds when this is all over, and wallets and borders are open again.

Airlines, too

Airlines may have the hardest time digesting this. They’re currently looking at massive waves of layoffs, asking for bailouts from the government, and have no idea when they’ll be able to ramp up flights again. It’s a seemingly insurmountable feat to survive in this climate.

But what airlines can do is keep moving forward. Yes, there will be layoffs and groundings, but people will come back. Currently, the airlines that are offering refunds and flexibility with cancellations will be remembered by their customers.

The airlines that choose to hide fees, penalise customers, and make their refund policies more complex and confusing — you’ll absolutely be remembered.

Then, engage with your loyal customers

Known for some of the best loyalty programmes out there, hotels are facing similar challenges (closings, furloughed employees, etc) but are well-positioned with a database full of engaged customers. Even though we’re stuck, the desire to travel is high, and hotels should capitalise on that feeling with digital campaigns that encourage and reward it.

Lots of people online have been saying, “I wish I was on a dream vacation right now.” This is the perfect time for hotels or other travel and tourism brands to talk to consumers and ask questions. Where would you like to be going? What would you like to be doing? How can we look to the future? With flights being cancelled and airlines offering up vouchers, why not start looking to build a package for this summer or winter?

But it’s not just about building a one-size-fits-all package. This is the time to take those answers and tailor the package to the individual consumers who respond. This way, you’re adding value for that customer all while building a true profile on who they are, which can be built on in the future when the sun comes out again.

Also, this is not the time for loyalty members to lose their status in your programme. Reassure members that their status will remain unchanged even if they don’t get the chance to travel this year.

Next, destinations, share your appeal

Just because none of us can leave our houses right now doesn’t mean that we aren’t still dreaming of travel. And that’s something Greece is counting on.

Accepting our reality — that no one is traveling anywhere soon — Greece has created a travel campaign called “Til Then, #StaySafe.” By showing stunning landscapes and potential adventures in Greece, they’re banking on keeping their destination top of mind, while also respecting travel restrictions and encouraging their future visitors to take recommended precautions. It inspires warm feelings and a positive outlook.

Scott’s Cheap Flights, which really isn’t a destination or mode of travel, but promotes travel, is also looking to the future. The emails with spectacular deals are still coming, but only for travel that takes place after July, and only the organisations that are offering flexible change and cancellation policies are being prioritised. Scott’s appears to be taking Edelman’s advice — looking out for their customers by putting in the extra legwork to make sure their deals don’t saddle their customers with extra costs.

For those instant gratification people — why not offer a tour of your destination right now? The Shedd Aquarium charmed a nation when they let their penguins experience the aquarium as people do, looking from the outside in. The National Park Service has partnered with Google to create interactive virtual tours of their parks in a series called The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. Paris may be shut down, but that doesn’t mean its museums are idle — the Louvre is doing virtual tours of three historic collections.

In times where we’re all cooped up, the fact that destinations are offering immersive experiences of these beautiful places will leave an indelible mark in the minds of would-be travelers.

Now, build out that database

This advice works for any industry, really. It’s to build out your database and to populate it with the psychographic data consumers have willingly shared with you so that when the time to travel comes again, you can be right there with a discount, reward, or helpful advice personalised for them.

Hospitality and tourism brands and organisations, like the ones mentioned above, have pivoted from providing a physical, in-person service to building awareness, and engaging and entertaining their customers. And this is exactly what they should be doing because these strategies can be used to divert and amuse consumers while also gathering the personal and preference data that can inform campaigns in the future.

Many brands and organisations are offering their experiences for free, that is, no signup or information needed. That’s wonderful! People across the world can tour a park or visit a museum exhibit, without sharing any information. When things return to normal, it’s these brands that will sit highly in the opinions of consumers.

But it’s also okay to engage in consensual data gathering by offering a value exchange — a giveaway, a virtual experience, free car rentals for healthcare professionals — in exchange for a consumer’s data that they voluntarily and willingly give (we call it zero-party data). Travel and hospitality brands can start this right away, either by using a platform like Cheetah Digital to create exciting experiences for consumers, or using your own tools. It is something brands can do starting today.

Finally, know that the industry will recover, but it will take time

Optimistic estimates put recovery at six to 12 months for the travel and hospitality industry. That’s a long time, but it’s one that a little ingenuity and a good strategy can overcome. By leaning into creative experiences, and building out databases with good and accurate information, the industry can prepare for the upcoming shift. Most importantly, the sooner we get the industry back on its feet, the sooner we can get people back into their jobs.