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Q&A: Loyalty and the Brand’s Role Across the Traveler Journey

Skift Take

Travel is a huge investment and a cherished experience for most people, and customers are demanding more from brands in exchange for their loyalty. Many travelers are making it clear that they want more than status and points — they want real relationships with companies (and people) who care.

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with Allianz Partners.

Content Partner

Travelers today see brand loyalty as much more than a transactional way to earn points and rewards. In this age of personalization, brands are having to adjust to be more conscious and mindful of what’s important to each individual traveler. That means putting insights into action to deliver experiences that reflect customer preferences, which often change from trip to trip.

Furthermore, global travel has become much more complex, and people have become hyper-aware of its potential hiccups. If they need assistance at any point during the booking process, or if something does go awry during a trip, travelers want more than concessions — they want care.

SkiftX spoke with Joe Mason, chief marketing officer, travel line of business, Allianz Partners, to discuss how brands can think more holistically about the traveler journey, offer more technology-supported personalization across each individual trip, and ultimately build stronger customer relationships that lead to deeper, longer lasting loyalty.

SkiftX: In what ways do you see traveler attitudes toward customer care and service changing as we look ahead to 2024 and beyond?

Joe Mason
Chief Marketing Officer,
Travel Line of Business
Allianz Partners

Joe Mason: Across industries, we’ve observed that consumers are still holding tight to memories of how certain brands responded during and following the Covid-19 pandemic — especially when it comes to how they approached customer care, empathy, and ultimately “doing the right thing.” When organizations have a shared set of values and beliefs as their customers, it helps develop lasting relationships, and the long-term loyalty gains from embracing those aspects have, and do, really pay off.

Consumers want to buy from brands that are most likely to take care of them, or at least work with them if something doesn’t go the way it is supposed to. In addition, during the past few years, consumers have gotten accustomed to even more on-demand servicing options and mobile-first approaches for everything — from grocery ordering to restaurant pick-up. Now they’re expecting the same when they travel.

SkiftX: How do you believe those sentiments will impact the way they view brand loyalty, especially among travelers who may have concerns about the increased complexity and cost of travel?

Mason: One common thread we’ve seen, whether we’re talking family vacations, bucket-list trips, or what we call “paycations” — when a traveler is working while on a trip — is that consumers are investing a lot in these experiences, emotionally and financially.

Because of this, we’ve seen products like travel insurance become a much more important part of the research and booking process. This gives them comfort knowing that they can be reimbursed for non-refundable costs for a trip if it’s canceled or cut short for a covered reason.

But there are services beyond traditional insurance that can help too. Travelers want to be confident they have someone to call 24/7 to help navigate issues, and they want to have anytime access to various mobile tools that provide additional safety or convenience. This level of protection is about so much more than financial reimbursements and can give travelers more confidence in making important decisions and purchases.

SkiftX: How does trip protection factor into customer loyalty for travel brands, and why are many brands now including it as an ancillary offering?

Mason: We know that consumers want more than to accumulate status. At the end of the day, many customers want peace of mind, ease, and convenience. That can make it hard for some brands to win with traditional loyalty reward programs alone.

Travel can be complex to plan and even navigate while on the trip. That’s why many brands today are investing in partnerships across the travel journey to simplify processes for customers and provide options for easy access to great service. Ultimately, consumers are going to benefit. Travel insurance as an ancillary offer in a travel booking is not just about making the sale. It’s about providing complementary services and solutions when customers need them the most.

SkiftX: How are technology and AI impacting brands’ abilities to provide more personalized service to a wider range of travelers?

Mason: AI has certainly been a big headline in the industry this past year, especially with the way ChatGPT and others burst onto the scene. The good news for us is that we’ve already been committed to integrating technology into our processes for years. One of the key areas where we’re leveraging AI is in speeding up our responsiveness and servicing by meeting customers where they want to do business — online, via app, by phone, or even the dusty fax machine in the corner.

Our approach to utilizing AI is to augment the things our people do best and to keep the things that really need human decision-making with humans. For example, AI can help us better plan for staffing to predict and handle large spikes in calls or claims — during a major weather event, for instance. AI can also help us ensure that customers provide all the necessary information for claims so we can get them prioritized and addressed, while also delivering intelligent chat and document review features. The trick is that this is all happening in real time as a customer is submitting a claim, which helps make it more simple and easy, resulting in faster resolution and more satisfied customers.

SkiftX: How can brands leverage partnerships to stitch together customer care across the entire journey?

Mason: It’s important for travel brands to leverage partnerships that are complementary to each other. Of course, brands should align with reputable partners, but they should also have like-minded approaches to innovation and continue to find ways to add value to the customer.

Take for instance some of the unique partnerships that help you earn in traditional loyalty programs: Delta and Starbucks, Marriott and Uber, Hilton and Ticketmaster. Those are just a few examples of where brands are taking advantage of partnerships combining consumer behaviors that naturally occur together. Travel insurance is just one more example of extending care throughout a customer’s trip even if the travel supplier is only responsible for the gate-to-gate experience.

The more we can do for customers to make their lives easier and provide solutions along the way (and give them easy ways to purchase things they want or need at the right time), the more loyal they will become. And at the end of the day, that care for the customer is what will keep them… or win them back.

For more information about Allianz, visit AllianzPartners.com.

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

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