As recovery continues, consumer preferences are clear via their rapid adoption of contactless technologies. Find out how travel brands can connect with their guests and move from contactless experiences to contactless loyalty in the new travel landscape.
By: Jason Simon
The travel industry has been upended by COVID-19.
During the shutdown, non-essential business travel came to a halt, and recreational travel saw a steady decline. Travel brands have had to shift rapidly to survive. Customer communication is more important than ever. Whether its regarding safety measures, booking updates, or promotions for future travel, brands have begun to experiment with what we’re calling contactless loyalty — finding a way to delight and bond with customers in the absence of face-to-face interactions.
We’re seeing a massive shift in consumer behaviors across generations as futuristic technologies move to the forefront of brand-customer interactions. Travel brands have pivoted their approach to engaging with travelers during this time, and have focused on reaching travelers with messages that resonate with them wherever they are in their journey.
Customers still have travel plans despite COVID-19
- Over 30% of travelers (with the exception of the silent generation) have plans to travel within the US.
- A third of travelers will start traveling again when the government says it is safe to do so, while a small subset of each generation will wait until over a year after having a vaccine to travel again.
- Millennials and Gen Z are most likely to travel by plane to their next destination, while the older generations are more likely to travel by car (rented or owned) on their next trip. (Source: Epsilon Consumer Sentiment Report, June 2020)
Contactless check-ins, buttons and screens — no knuckle necessary
From pumping gas checking in at the airport, travel has typically involved contacting high-touch surfaces. Technologies such as touchless hover sensors have increased in popularity over the years — and consumers especially prefer it now. Installing this technology can be relatively inexpensive and makes spaces like elevators and ATMs feel safer.
- 62% of (hotel) guests say the ability to request service from a mobile phone or tablet is important to them
- 70% of millennials are more likely to book a hotel with tech amenities like keyless entry, Smart TVs, or mobile payments
Who’s doing it well?
Many hotels are rethinking their spaces, using contactless technology for access and payments across their properties. Both Hilton and Marriott have mobile check-in and payments, as well as keyless room entry via their apps.
With cleanliness and social distancing at the forefront, Hilton has partnered with Lysol for a CleanStay initiative. Meanwhile, Marriott has created a Global Cleanliness Council to roll out new standards around hospital-grade sanitation. As a part of its Global Cleanliness Council, Marriott is testing ultraviolet light technology to sanitize room card keys across all properties, and they’ve rolled out mobile check-in and keyless entry across 3,300+ hotels.
Mobile check-in means customers don’t have to wait in line or have an employee handle their room key first. Instead, check-in and key retrieval are handled within the Marriott Bonvoy app. After 4pm, travelers receive a push notification to check in and another notification when their room is ready. Travelers can then unlock their room with their phone,smartwatch, or voice assistant.
At the conclusion of their stay, guests can check out through their phone and have their receipt emailed, again allowing them to skip the front desk and keep a safe distance from other travelers. These efforts engender trust and loyalty by addressing the human emotional needs around comfort and safety.
Travel brands can’t wait out the pandemic
While people will begin to travel again at their own pace, it’s imperative for travel brands to demonstrate to customers they’re thinking of them and appreciate their business.
You’ll need to make your most valuable customers feel valued. Loyalty is achieved through emotional and rational interactions, so think of ways (beyond transactions) that customers can engage with you. Brands must then elevate those intangible experiences and services. Travel is an experience, and travel brands must work overtime to ensure customers have a positive one.
- Status. Mark tier status with badges or recognition — especially in ways they can share socially online.
- Appreciation.Give customers surprise-and-delight experiences, such as gifts, samples, and free services.
- Exclusive access. Offer them access to specific perks, such as a free in-flight food item or in-flight entertainment.
- Special privileges. Offer waived fees, early access or discounts.
- Timely updates. Send notifications ahead of time about new safety procedures and how customers can best come prepared to travel, so they experience fewer roadblocks along the way.
As the world is moving increasingly contactless, it’s more important than ever for travel to build long-lasting loyalty with consumers. Although travel brands have particular difficulties facing the post-COVID era, there are many ways for them to align themselves so that they can rebound once travel resumes in full. Lay the groundwork now and enjoy the fruits of a full recovery later on.
Download our e-book on “Contactless Loyalty: Building lasting connections in an increasingly contactless world” to learn more. We define the concept of contactless loyalty, share current consumer trends, and provide four steps to creating contactless loyalty.
Check out our articles on creating contactless loyalty in other industries:
- 4 Tips for Retailers to Create Contactless Loyalty
- How Financial Service Brands Can Build Trust and Loyalty on a Foundation of Contactless Experiences
- How to Deliver Engaging Contactless Experiences While Gaining Guest Affinity
Jason Simon is SVP of Sales at Epsilon. He is responsible for CRM, Loyalty, Database, Email, Strategic Services and Analytics to Fortune 500 hospitality, travel, sports, entertainment and telco brands.