With the world slowly opening up to the possibility of travelling, the sector starts growing hopes in the travel industry recovery. Dave Burling, chief executive at Tui Group, Britain’s largest holiday company, pointed out that as “restrictions come off, demand will come back, bringing cash flow and jobs.”

The demand is very much there. An American Express study found that 78% of respondents wanted to travel in 2021 in order to relieve the stresses of 2020, and 87% plan trips for the future to give them something to look forward to.

The reality of the post-pandemic travel industry

The easing of restrictions and the opening of tourist destinations still doesn’t mean the industry is out of the woods. The travel sector can still expect to face quite a few challenges.

  • Firstly, travel companies will certainly have to work through a huge demand backlog. Operators will have many requests to process, from people looking to rebook previously postponed or cancelled trips to new customers wanting to secure holidays.
  • Secondly, the industry will have to look at people who are uncomfortable with the travel arrangements. While we expect demand to be high, there will be some customers torn between the desire to buy tickets and wait to see the outcomes. Uncertainty over travelling destinations and the health risks associated with new virus variants will influence customer buying journeys and decision-making. Therefore, we might see lower conversions despite the increases in volumes of website visits and queries via chatbots, contact centres, and social channels.
  • Thirdly, this continuing uncertainty will grow a greater demand for flexibility in booking and last-minute changes.

All of this points to an increasing demand on customer service channels, with lower rates of conversion ultimately resulting in a higher cost to service.

Overcoming obstacles with a reduced workforce

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, 44% of travel and tourism’s workforce was on full or partial furlough this year, compared to 12% in other industries. That means travel businesses will need to meet the rising demand and follow up changing buying patterns with a restricted workforce.

Truth to be said, all industries face these challenges ever since the beginning of the pandemic. The situation only became worse over time and created the engagement capacity gap. This is known as the chasm between what organization need to manage customer engagement and the resources they have to do it.

Travel sector seems to have the hardest time to overcome the engagement gap this year. The results of the 2021 report from Engagement Preparedness Index support this notion, showing the travel industry is the least prepared to address the capacity gap. Across eight industries, the average EPI was 57 out of 100 – with telecoms, financial services and government and the public sector above that mid-point. Travel was at the bottom with an EPI of 45, a full seven points lower than the next industry.

It’s important to look at the good side, though, and focus on the positives. Those travel companies that manage to achieve high customer engagement will have an enormous competitive advantage in the post-pandemic marketplace.

Closing the engagement gap with AI solutions

How can businesses meet the above objectives and close the engagement capacity gap with limited resources? Clearly, hiring more workers is neither a quick nor economically feasible solution. Instead, looking at current processes and roles, using digital tools, and automating practices can be a solution. All of this can relieve the stress and heavy work from the shoulders of employees.

Artificial intelligence can help employees capture information with more speed and accuracy, especially through bots and back-end analytics. With higher security, better fraud solution, and customer experience management platforms, employees can quickly overcome the engagement gaps. The automated processes will also initiate a better customer experience by boosting efficiency, creativity, and engagement. Furthermore, all of this helps the travel industry recovery.

Adapting to the new era of travel

Travel operators that wish to overcome the engagement capacity gap require a new set of capabilities. If they want to survive and thrive as the industry restarts itself, businesses need to adapt and act quickly in these uncertain times. Empowering the workforce to boost creativity and deliver the right support to customers is one of the first steps on this path.

As previously mentioned, automation can help but only when perfectly combined with the human touch. When you improve the flow of data and analysis across functions, you allow your employees to follow billions of interactions and truly listen to the customers. That makes the modern customer experience and provides travel operators with the right tools to overcome the challenges in the sector. It also brings us one step closer to the travel industry recovery.

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