As the summer of revenge travel comes to a close, consumers have shown a clear indication of what they expect in the future: more flexibility, control, and convenience. The new CEO of Allianz Partners USA spoke with SkiftX about how travel brands can deliver better service in the midst of operational challenges and labor shortage troubles.
When Jeff Wright took over as CEO of Allianz Partners USA in February, the insurance industry veteran could empathize with many of the company’s customers about the uncertainties of leaving home.
“I took a trip to Tortola, and they still have entry testing requirements,” said Wright, who stepped into the CEO role after more than two years as the company’s CFO. “I was traveling a lot for work. The level of anxiety that builds in the days leading up to taking that test and getting into the country is pretty stressful.”
SkiftX spoke with Wright about how brands should evolve to alleviate some of that stress, meet new customer expectations, and leverage the power of partnerships to do what every travel company should aim to do: deliver the best service while helping customers discover the world.
SkiftX: Everything has changed in the past two years. What do you see as the biggest shift in travelers’ priorities?
Jeff Wright: The biggest shift is the demand for flexibility and optionality. You may plan or book two or three different vacations because of the flexibility around cancellations. For example, a customer might book one international and one domestic trip because they don’t know what the testing requirements will be when the dates of the trip arrive.
As they look ahead to the actual travel experience, customers are also baking in the expectation that something will go wrong. They are looking for products like travel insurance to protect them. And despite those concerns, we are seeing that people want to get away more than ever. We conduct an in-depth Vacation Confidence survey every year, and before the pandemic, we typically saw that 43 percent of Americans planned summer vacations. That jumped last year to a record high of 60 percent. This enthusiasm for travel is driving bigger spending, too. Even as inflation worries dominate the headlines, consumers in the U.S. say they are okay spending up to 20 percent more.
SkiftX: Customers are willing to spend more money, but they have more choices, too. What levers should executives consider to build brand loyalty?
Wright: We’re reaping the benefits of revenge travel right now. If you’re not delivering on customer service this summer, some customers may be willing to forgive you due to the challenges everyone is facing. But it won’t be that way for long — particularly if the economy slows down. With that in mind, travel brands have to get back to the surprise-and-delight factor. For travel insurance, that can be better utilization of instant benefits. For example, if we know that you’re delayed, we can get you some money to pay for dinner while you’re stuck at the airport. That’s how we think about it. But I think that’s true for all brands as they try to figure out brand loyalty.
Ultimately, loyalty comes when you are delivering customer value, and any products or services offered contribute to the customer experience and value you are delivering. Offering products that have little follow through, versus products that make a meaningful difference when your customers need them most, will certainly have an impact on your brand loyalty. For that reason, it’s important — and you’re picking the right partner to help deliver those moments that matter. So, it’s not just about selling. Instead, it’s about selling with an equal focus on servicing.
SkiftX: What does the shift to a hybrid work model mean for travel? How should companies adapt to meet the needs of a different kind of work-life balance?
Wright: There is a new level of ease for professionals to work from different locations and turn more weekends into three-day weekends. That’s more a spur-of-the-moment vacation than the traditional summer vacation that you plan many months ahead. We call them micro-cations. With the booking window happening weeks or even days out, consumers aren’t looking for an endless set of options. We’re focusing on simplifying the purchase decision for that consumer. They want us to deliver the right product at the right time. That’s really what they need for these types of trips. Travel brands should be focused on making every choice feel easy.
SkiftX: You took on the role of CEO about six months ago. What is your philosophy on organizational structure, and how is that playing out at Allianz Partners?
Wright: Our organizational structure has been set up to execute quickly through agile teams, which means that every one of our partners has a dedicated team to support their business. These teams have product experts, project management experts, technology experts, performance analytics professionals, and marketing strategists. There are no functional silos that you have to break down, so things get moving really quickly. If there’s work that has to be done, you’re pulling all those teammates together to sprint to deliver what the partners need.
SkiftX: As travel companies across all sectors navigate this unique moment, why are partnerships so important?
Wright: This industry is a close-knit family. Travel agents, airline executives, cruise line executives, tour companies, rental car companies, insurance companies — we are all at the same table because we all have the same customer. There isn’t one company that owns that entire value chain in the travel industry. So, I think we complement each other to find solutions to these complex problems. In this environment shaped by operational challenges and labor shortage troubles, that spirit of collaboration is proving to be more crucial than ever before.
SkiftX: Allianz Partners has an almost century-old history of serving travel partners and travelers across the globe. How do you leverage the company’s past successes while remaining innovative?
Wright: I was attracted to the company originally as CFO because the culture is a mix of proven leadership with a bold entrepreneurial spirit. We’re first to do a lot of new things. We were the first to have travel insurance in the airline booking path. We were the first to be part of an OTA booking path. We were the first in the event ticket insurance space.
As CEO, I view our role as continuing to achieve those firsts and to push the envelope — whether it’s with new products, new technologies, or even being the primary travel insurer who’s working with regulators to develop new laws. The travel industry and travel insurance will continue to evolve, and I’m committed to listening to our customers and our partners to understand what they need and create new solutions.