Undoubtedly, the travel and hospitality sector has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with airlines, hotels and tour operators experiencing cancellations of services. However, in the face of this unprecedented challenge, many companies have shown remarkable agility in adapting to the altered reality. In this article, I’ll walk you through some positive outcomes of the crisis and highlight the potential positives in the future of tourism.

Trends and predictions: do we still want to travel?

As the vaccination roll-out gathers momentum across the world, pent-up demand for travel is resulting in a surge in bookings. STR Inc and Tourism Economics, for instance, project that the hotel industry will recapture 80 per cent of demand by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) anticipates global air passenger traffic to recover to 88 per cent of pre-COVID levels in 2022, with this number being surpassed in 2023.

In yet another ATA survey published in March of 2021, 72 per cent of respondents said that they want to travel to see family and friends as soon as possible. That is 63 per cent higher compared to September 2020. As more people get inoculated, 81 per cent believe that they are more likely to travel once vaccinated. What does this mean for the future of tourism?

Implementing digital innovations for seamless travel experience

A girl with a face mask looks at the mini globe wondering how the future of tourism will look like.

Amid customers showing a renewed confidence to travel, companies need to transform their online CX in the same way that other key sectors such as retail and financial services have been doing. The Everest Group Global CFO Survey 2020, supported by WNS, revealed that nearly half (49 per cent) of CFOs were considering fast-tracking the adoption of digital technologies to improve CX.

As they provide a bundled trip experience that spares passengers the inconvenience of booking separate travel components at different stages, travel companies need to move towards a single customer-service point of contact for all aspects of a trip. Besides, COVID-19 has also accelerated the development and use of touchless technologies.

Airlines and hotels have implemented various solutions, including check-in biometrics. Biosecurity screening and touchless bag-drop and concierge services are becoming standard requirements for a safe and seamless travel experience. Alongside these technologies are innovations such as room service ordering via an app and personalized housekeeping management via mobile.

The importance of AI and personalization

At a time when brands are battling trust erosion and every booking matter, travel companies need to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI)-led personalization to understand traveller intent. As well as providing offers and services that are tailored to customer needs, travel companies must increase personalization, especially in matters of safety.

Recent research by a leading OTA shows that the global search window has remained short, with the majority of searches falling within zero to 21 days. This suggests that travellers are opting for more opportunistic, short-term domestic trips, often closer to home. As travel corridors open and shut on a regular basis, this trend for shorter time scales will continue.

Integrating digital solutions with a human touch

A traveller walks with a mask and eyeglasses.

Volatility is certainly not a new phenomenon for the travel and hospitality industry. However, the pandemic has elevated it by a few notches. Companies will have to account for increased variabilities while continuing to deliver a highly personalized CX. We see the trend of a powerful amalgamation of human and Ai driven conversational insights increasing over the past year or so. There is certainly a need for a holistic platform that can compile data from all sources coupled with real-time insights from customer interactions across various touchpoints.

A leading North American Online Travel Agent (OTA) for hotels and realized reservations is the key to an Improved CX and cost efficiency, as it brings intelligent contact strategy and blends digital and human assistance. Led by an in-depth understanding of multi-channel CX and analytics, it built a customer journey transformation roadmap. The OTA deployed an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solution driving self-serve, containing costs, and providing a seamless CX.

Further, the OTA deployed AI-powered bots to reduce the cost of operations by more than 20 per cent. The integrated interaction analytics helped monitor customer sentiment in real-time, thus improving customer satisfaction by 10 to 15 per cent. 

Turning crisis into opportunities

Even though COVID 19 disrupted the future of tourism, it brought a unique opportunity for businesses to closely scrutinize their processes. While companies need to leverage digital tools and technologies, they must also look at incorporating innovative or alternative work models.   

As customer habits continue to evolve, businesses will have to smartly balance digital experience and an empathetic touch while continually analyzing and predicting changing behaviours. Rather than just focusing on one aspect of the challenge, travel companies must build a comprehensive view to improve CX.

The COVID-19 crisis is a great reminder that in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. The pandemic represents a chance for travel companies to re-imagine CX and create a digital-led pathway to improved customer journeys and profitability in the future of tourism.

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