Optimizing CX for the Future of Travel Beyond 2021
The travel industry was one of the hardest hit when the pandemic resulted in border closures and travel restrictions. The good news is that as the Northern Hemisphere enters spring, it’s predicted to bring a resurgence of life for the travel industry. Having been homebound for most of 2020, many people appear eager to travel again. New travel trends are emerging that could give this industry a significant and much needed boost.
In the United States, for the first time since March 2020, the TSA reported processing more than 1.5 million travelers in a day. While this is a positive indication, domestic travel remains 30% lower than pre-pandemic levels and international travel is still very limited. People may be researching and dreaming of traveling again, but the booking process has become even more complex than before. So much has changed, and the pandemic is not over yet. Optimizing the digital experience to provide valuable information that helps convert visitors into customers is a key element to driving growth. How can travel providers capitalize on emerging trends and optimize CX to make the most of the momentum as travel restarts?
What are the new travel trends for 2021?
Longer and more expensive trips: Having been homebound for a year, many people have accumulated leave or personal time off (PTO) hours. Indications are that people intend to take longer trips and don’t mind spending more to do so. Silverseas 2023 World Cruise sold out in a single day. The 139 day cruise comes at a price tag of between $74,000 and $278,000 per person and visits 34 Southern Hemisphere countries including the remote Papua New Guinea islands. While this may be an extreme example, it highlights that people no longer want to put off those bucket list travel items. They have the time and they’re willing to spend the money to experience their dream destinations and outings.
Nomad travel: Remote working has seen the expansion of a relatively new travel sector where people take extended trips and take their work with them. As long as they have an internet connection and the time to work, it doesn’t really matter where they are working from. The Dominican Republic is the latest destination to capitalize on this by offering short term work visas for nomad travelers. Many other Caribbean destinations have already initiated nomad incentives and Mediterranean countries such as Croatia are set to follow the same trend.
Sustainable travel: The exponential growth in the travel industry over the past decade (2020 excluded) may have been good for business, but it also has had significant social and environmental impacts. People are more aware of this now. Travel surveys reflect that people wish to avoid crowds and prefer to engage in outdoor activities. They also want to reduce their footprint and see local communities and natural environments benefiting from their travel dollars. Conscious travel is a strong trend emerging in all demographics.
Connected travel: People are more familiar with self-service and navigating digital channels. Mobile has also become the preferred channel through which travelers can stay connected and access up-to-date information while traveling. This level of digital shopping maturity results in the expectation that the online booking experience for a holiday needs to be as convenient and hassle free as ordering groceries with curbside pickup - because that has become the norm. Unfortunately, the added complexities of traveling post-COVID are making it difficult for travel providers to meet those expectations. Constantly changing visa, travel and vaccination requirements, routing and schedule changes and massive price variances are creating a great deal of online friction and anxiety for would-be travelers. Is there a way to reduce this friction and improve the digital experience to increase online bookings?
AI-driven optimization for travel booking growth
Knowing what visitors are looking for is important, but more critical is understanding when and how to display relevant and contextual information throughout the customer journey. Pricing is one example. Customers may be attracted to a travel website because of a promotion. Online there is an opportunity to really sell the experience and reassure them it’s the best deal, providing all the necessary information to address any anxieties they may have about booking a trip. There is possibly even the opportunity to upsell them into a different package or add some extras.
The reality is that there are so many options available, so many ways to present information and you really only have one shot at getting it right. It’s all too easy to click on a competitor’s website if a visitor doesn’t find what they’re looking for. An AI-driven optimization implements ideation at scale, which means that travel providers have the opportunity to experiment with thousands of ideas, combinations and variations, they’re not limited to just testing idea A against idea B. Each idea can be closely aligned with achieving specific key performance indicators (KPIs) such as increasing conversions, increasing average order revenue (AOV) and reducing cart abandonment.
As the top performing ideas emerge, there is the opportunity to add to the ideas to further improve the digital experience. And while the optimization is working, travel providers have the benefit of gaining meaningful insights from real visitors and seeing which ideas are generating the most success and booking lift.
Travel providers that create memorable online experiences are more likely to benefit from early bird bookers and gain more referrals. With travel only just re-opening and people starting to search for their next vacation plans, no opportunity to secure a booking should be lost. Optimizing the customer experience is fundamental to achieving success and travel providers who start now will have the most to gain.