With signs of stabilization on the back of vaccination efforts worldwide, global travel markets are eyeing a solid post-pandemic recovery. Pent-up demand is driving a strong uptake in bookings, as leisure travel shows indications of rebound in Europe and North America. Recent data from the TSA shows that April 2021 traveler checkpoints were more than five times higher than traveler checkpoints for the same time last year.
However, things look different for business travel. Industry consultant company Accenture recently released a new report: “Travel Industry Recovery: Business or Leisure,” highlighting both the growing demand in the leisure market and the loss of business traffic as a result of the pandemic.
Nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents in Accenture’s research said they had no business travel plans post-pandemic, or intended to cut previous business travel by half. Business travel is normally the “bread and butter” of the industry, so these shifts will present new challenges for hotels and airlines, which must reposition themselves for a strengthening leisure market.
However, new opportunities will undoubtedly rise as well. According to a survey conducted by Accenture in Q1 2021, 79 percent of remote workers said they’re willing to work from a place other than their work office or home, while 15 percent said they would work from a hotel, such as a lobby, meeting area, or guest room. This figure is much higher for remote workers in China, where 96 percent said they would work from a third place.
SkiftX unpacks Accenture’s key findings, with insight from Miguel Flecha, Accenture’s managing director, strategy and consulting, Travel, Europe, on what hotel and airline brands should be focusing on to succeed throughout travel’s recovery.
FIND NEW INSPIRATION
While the decrease in business travel marks a seismic shift for the industry, Accenture’s Miguel Flecha sees the opportunities to fill the gap. He cites the rise of “bleisure” and “flexcations,” or longer trips that fuse work and play — as well as this increasing leisure demand — as shifts that brands will need to adapt their messaging around in order to thrive throughout recovery and beyond.
“Previously, brands didn’t need to go out in the market and gain the attention of the leisure traveler,” said Flecha. “Those travelers came to them. That may change a bit during the recovery.”
Flecha suggests new messaging strategies through social media and travel channels to entice and inspire the new clientele. “The big companies will need to have the right positioning in the inspiration phase through social media and content. It won’t be just about showing a picture of a room, or a restaurant, or facility — they will need to provide audiences with more experiential visual content. Perhaps using the destination, and what’s around it, to showcase the brand in a different way.”
USE SCALABLE MEDIA AND CONTENT
Additionally, hotels and airlines will need to offer a strong, personalized value proposition — one that connects with the traveler consistently across all channels along the marketing funnel.
“Being able to apply the one-to-one approach at scale with the right content and the right value proposition is really complex,” said Flecha. “But we need to strive to make it as targeted as possible.”
As well as developing a broader global marketing strategy, brands may need to factor in more local flexibility into their messaging and product offering.
“We used to travel in a different way. We’d visit Paris and see the major sights and attractions there,” said Flecha. “But now we have realized the value of local communities and the local flavors of destinations. We’re no longer just going to the Eiffel Tower — we now might drive one hour away from Paris and explore outward.”
Brands would do well to test fresh strategies in key markets, find new synergies, and tease out the new leisure opportunity.
PREPARE FOR LOYALTY 2.0
Customer loyalty pre-pandemic relied on points-based programs driven by frequent business travel. Brands will now need to rethink customer loyalty and offer new propositions for leisure travel.
“In the past, it was trickier to create a one-to-one relationship with these travelers,” said Flecha. “Many used to travel only once a year for a long vacation. But if we are expecting these travelers to travel more, brands will need to work out how to establish an ongoing relationship with them.”
Another consideration is how brands blend this approach with the existing business traveler, given that the lines are now blurrier than ever through increasing “bleisure” and “flexcation” travel. “The question is how we can connect all of the data needed to differentiate, and maximize accordingly,” said Flecha.
REIMAGINE CUSTOMER DATA
Uncovering local needs, guiding the value proposition, increasing efficiency, and prioritizing investments to unlock new opportunities really boils down to harnessing good data. Brands need to leverage their data tools to further drive engagement, deliver key insights, and enhance personalization.
“Brands need to make data a priority to personalize the customer experience,” said Flecha. “So when a customer lands on the website, uses the brand channels, and makes a booking, the journey is consistent and optimized for their personal needs the whole way through.”
PROVIDE SEAMLESS EXPERIENCES
If brand affinity and loyalty is the name of the new leisure game, there’s a lot to be gained when the experience matches the promise. As Flecha explained, brands need to ensure their inspirations match the reality on the ground. Offering quality and authentic experiences from end to end will drive ongoing loyalty and win further engagement, both through this short-term recovery period and the longer-term beyond.