The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated consumers’ usage of online tools and platforms, and travel brands are making plans to address that transformation.
In a survey conducted by Sweden-based payment technology company Trustly, 42% of leaders from Europe-based online travel agencies and 35% from both low-cost and full-service airlines say “improving digital channels for customer service” is the top strategy they intend to use to improve their relationship with travelers post-COVID-19.
About two-thirds of the 450 respondents are from OTAs and the rest from airlines, with 68% representing companies with annual revenues greater than €1 billion. The results are detailed in “Rebound or Rehabilitation?” - the first in a series of three reports from Trustly.
Both airline and OTA respondents choose “increased investment in direct to consumer distribution channels” and “increased investment in your consumer brand” as their second and third priorities for improving their relationships with customers.
The report advises travel leaders to address both the challenges and opportunities presented by the accelerated digital transformation.
It states, “The challenge: now that the urgency and crisis mentality of early 2020 has normalized, how can an organization maintain pace and agility in its deployment of technology to enhance the traveler experience and drive commercial improvements? The opportunity: 2020 has delivered, for many, one of the most rapid and visible test cases or proof points for technology, which may well smooth the path ahead for the next steps in technology investment.”
Along with technology, the report says another factor executives need to consider is “curing the debt hangover.”
Citing data from IATA that the global airline industry’s debt has grown to $550 billion by the end of 2020, the report cautions, “...the sector begins 2021 on a slow path to recovery, with a greater level of liabilities, higher debt to service, and suppressed demand. This cannot be sustained without the economics of the travel proposition being scrutinized.”
Trustly’s survey also found 70% of executives believe that the pandemic will change the competitive landscape and create opportunities for the strongest brands. To capture those opportunities, the report advises brands to understand that the best-in-class digital experiences consumers have today become the baseline for their expectations for tomorrow.
“The customer journey and passenger experience of 2021 and beyond, therefore, needs to keep up with the pace of progress it was so urgently forced to embrace during 2020, or risk falling behind customers who now know better than ever, the art of the possible,” it states.