The grand reopening of the U.S. is officially underway as vaccinations continue and Covid-19 rates decline. Travel bookings are picking up and a pattern of domestic before international and leisure before corporate is emerging. Road trips and domestic flights are leading the recovery, and hotels are increasingly filling up.

Travel brands should see this unique moment in history as a chance to redefine their relationships with travelers, many of whom will have new wants and needs from their travel providers relating to Covid-19. As well as changes to the travel persona, the way we interact with each other, our communities, and brands, has indelibly changed. Not all shifts in human behavior can be predicted, but there are certain fundamentals in place to help us prepare — having accurate first-party customer data in place is on top of that list.

Here, we look at three actions travel brands can take now to engage customers during this unique moment.

BUILD YOUR FIRST-PARTY DATA ASSETS AND PREPARE FOR THE ‘COOKIE-POCALYPSE’

At the start of 2020, Google announced plans to remove support for third-party cookies in Chrome within two years, putting pressure on brands that rely on this tracking ecosystem for their digital marketing. However, within weeks of this bombshell, Covid-19 took hold, and C-suite minds were focusing on immediate survival — not allocating resources for something that was set to take place a few years down the line, as significant as this announcement was.

But brands exposed to this change need to make a plan now to maximize the reach, usability, and growth rate of their existing first-party data. It is relatively straightforward to establish first-party customer data as the foundation for your brand strategy with the right partner in place, as well as with the help of customer relationship management platforms.

The challenge is how best to assess and operationalize the first-party data collected using existing internal resources, possibly combining these insights with validated third-party sources. Many companies are investing in customer data platforms, building a foundation with their first-party customer data for audience creation, retargeting, and attribution in a post-cookie landscape. This foundation allows for new opportunities, insights, and actions: New customer segments might emerge — if not entirely new addressable markets — justifying the investment needed. Partnerships will be formed based on data sharing as well as product compatibility.

As Danielle Harvey, VP, customer intelligence & media, at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts explained: “We began implementation of the Amperity Customer Data Platform before the pandemic hit, which not only helped us prepare for a cookieless future for our marketing and media approach, but also gave us a better understanding of our customers during a critical time.

“We improved the precision of transactional communications like pre-stay triggers when cancellation rates were climbing and are now able to provide more relevant information to travelers in feeder markets — particularly in drive-to destinations — for those who are hitting the road again.”

DOUBLE DOWN ON ANALYTICS TO UNDERSTAND YOUR NEW POST-PANDEMIC CUSTOMER AND DELIVER PERSONALIZED OFFERINGS

During the outbreak, lockdowns and restrictions prompted many to try out or increase their online shopping. U.S. citizens spent more than $860 million online during 2020, up 44 percent from the previous year.

Each one of these millions of consumers is expecting personalization as standard. Even before the pandemic, 91 percent of consumers were more likely to purchase from brands that provided relevant offers and recommendations, and this trend has only accelerated in the last year. Digital late adopters will have the same personalization demands as mature users, and many will be engaging with a travel brand online for the first time. The personalization principles for both segments are the same: targeted content and products, delivered at the right time, consistent across every channel used.

Personalized offerings are built from customer behavior, so the offer is only as good as the data behind it. With so many changes to customer sentiment, traveler preference, and personal circumstances, historic data is obsolete. To identify how customer needs have changed, and reengage and reactivate your best customers, an alternative is to double-down on the most recent and accurate date — looking at the past 30 days in detail, rather than the past two years, for example.

“With our first-party customer data centralized in Amperity, we are able to look at our guest segmentation strategy with fresh eyes, which helps us meet changing behavior. For example, we can identify travelers who are engaging with us in different ways now than they were pre-pandemic and test the right offers and communications vehicles for them.

“We also can expand offers to new audiences, test new email journeys and offers, and reach those who have not been in close contact with us more recently, through alternative channels. It’s a level of customization we just didn’t have before,” said Harvey.

REINVENT LOYALTY FOR THE NEW ERA OF LEISURE TRAVEL

The pandemic has brought about new shifts in traveler loyalty. The traditional drivers of loyalty, based around accumulating points, are less important for travelers. Instead, factors such as safety and hygiene, personalized offers, customer support, and service will drive bookings.

Brands therefore need to rethink who their loyal customers are and the different types of value a loyal, regular, or repeat customer brings, to meet the needs of existing loyalty customers and find new non-loyalty members to cultivate and grow. Airlines and hotels in particular must consider loyalty in much bigger and more holistic terms. Loyalty should be looked at through the lens of new journeys and experiences that are driven by a deeper level of customer engagement with the brand beyond transactions, and in turn, result in higher customer lifetime value.

While points and loyalty programs aren’t going anywhere, access to first-party data means that travel brands can reframe their loyalty offerings so that they’re suited to how their customers are behaving and reflect consumer trends.

Harvey further explained, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve granted flexibility to our members to ensure they can take advantage of their perks when they are ready. While our overall loyalty strategy hasn’t changed dramatically, given the majority of our business comes from leisure travelers visiting drive-to destinations, we’re now able to focus on different customer attributes like recency, frequency, and channel and communication preferences to ensure we’re reaching travelers at the right time in the right way with the right message.”

The recovery will be predicated on several factors — most outside a brand’s control — putting the emphasis on airlines and hotels to take control of areas where they do have ownership. Establishing a firm and durable foundation for valuable first-party customer data as the new linchpin for targeted marketing and personalized commerce is one area where travel companies have autonomy. The need for brands to start on this is more pressing than ever.

As brands look to engage with the new customer landscape, Amperity has created a guide that helps brands harness the full power of customer data for this new era of commerce. Preparing for the Great Human Reconnection is full of insights and tactical plays drawn from experiences of our customers — some of the world’s most loved brands — who have all successfully enhanced their competitive advantage post-pandemic.

This content was created collaboratively by Amperity and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.