The Covid-19 pandemic proved that brands that are able to quickly evolve their offerings to meet the shifting needs of customers are the ones that will not only survive, but come out stronger through their ability to adapt. The importance of embracing agility is one lesson brands can take into 2021 and beyond.
When Covid-19 paused travel last year, American Express Travel acted quickly to revamp its offerings to meet the new realities of its Card Members around the world. The move showed the need for brands to innovate and adapt on the fly – something that will undoubtedly continue to be necessary when travel begins to rebound.
SkiftX spoke to Audrey Hendley, president of American Express Travel, about the company’s outlook for travel’s return, how the company pivoted its offerings during Covid-19, and its expectations for traveler habits going forward.
SkiftX: What’s your outlook on where travel will be, looking toward 2025?
Audrey Hendley: The future of travel is strong, and we believe it will eventually return to the level it was at in 2019. There is pent up demand for travel right now. In our October 2020 Amex Trendex survey of consumers across the U.S., U.K., Mexico, Canada, Australia, Japan, and India, 84 percent of people said that traveling is one of the top activities they missed most. Consumers are also saving up points and miles for future trips. Our November 2020 Amex Trendex survey found that over one-third of U.S. consumers are planning to use their credit card rewards points for flights.
It’s going to take some time for both leisure and business travel to recover. But we’re investing for the long term and using this time to address the immediate needs of our customers while helping them prepare for the future.
SkiftX: What needs to happen for travel to bounce back?
Hendley: Health and safety, flexibility, and customer service will continue to be important to travelers. Our travel partners have done great work to partner with experts and establish new cleanliness standards, such as Delta Clean, Hilton CleanStay, Marriott Commitment to Clean, and the Healthy Sail Panel. Similarly, before we reopened our Centurion Lounges, we introduced the “Centurion Lounge Commitment,” which outlined additional safety and cleanliness procedures to ensure our lounges are safe, clean, and welcoming for Card Members as they start traveling again.
Travel advisors will also play an increasingly important role to help customers navigate an evolving travel environment. In response, we’re investing in new digital tools to continue to uplift our high-tech meets high-touch servicing and provide a more personalized experience for our Card Members. Beyond that, Covid-19 testing and widespread distribution of the vaccine will bring increased comfortability with traveling.
SkiftX: How would you define American Express Travel’s strategy during this time?
Hendley: When Covid-19 put travel on hold, we quickly pivoted to add value to the areas that mattered most to our Card Members, such as limited-time statement credits for online shopping and streaming and wireless services; enhanced rewards for essentials like dining and grocery spending; new Uber Eats benefits; and new discounts to small businesses to help offset tool and technology costs. And, for customers who are ready to travel, we’re adding more value with offers across domestic hotels, air, and car rentals. We’ll continue to channel the agility and speed we leveraged in 2020 into how we adapt to what lies ahead.
SkiftX: How do you expect the new consumer habits, behaviors, and business innovations we saw in 2020 to evolve in the long term?
Hendley: >In 2020, e-commerce boomed, contactless payments became mainstream, and new retail experiences emerged, such as curbside pickup and mobile ordering. These trends will continue into 2021 and beyond.
Contactless payments are here to stay. In the August 2020 Amex Digital Payments Trendex, 70 percent of U.S. merchants said their customers have requested contactless payments more since the start of the outbreak, and 81 percent of merchants said they intend to make contactless payments a permanent option for their customers. As consumers spend more time at home, they are also spending more on online shopping: 79 percent of consumers surveyed in December 2020 said they have spent significantly more time shopping online in the past 12 months than ever before, and 53 percent said they plan to spend more on online purchases in 2021 than in the past.
Digital and mobile commerce spending will continue to grow rapidly – we’re seeing this with our own channels. In August 2020, we saw an 11 percent year-over-year increase in daily active American Express mobile app users globally. This was even higher for our millennial and Gen Z Card Members.
While 2020 was challenging for small businesses, it also showed their resilience. As the business landscape evolves, we’re focused on designing offers and solutions that give small businesses around the world the continued support they need — including the ability to earn member rewards points and cash back on purchases — to navigate these uncertain times and come out stronger.