Over the past 18 months, almost every travel brand has been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. The travelling public lost the freedom to venture abroad due to a near standstill in international travel, and as a part of this process, many travellers, unfortunately, began to lose trust in travel operators. Confusion and a lack of transparency (in some cases) around cancellations, refunds, and reorganisation of bookings led many travellers to question travel operators. As we gradually welcome the return of international travel with open arms, the travel industry is working tirelessly to regain that trust.
The struggles brought about by customer scepticism (along with the other major challenges that came with the pandemic) have caused travel brands to invest in adapting, innovating, and diversifying their strategies, products, and customer experience in order to maintain reputations, retain customer loyalty, and drive revenue while also focusing on long-term growth plans.
In order to discover more about how travel companies can rebuild trust with their customers, the importance of innovation during a crisis, and the significance of transparent communication between brands and consumers, we had the pleasure of speaking with Will Plummer, CEO & Co-founder of travel trust/protection solutions provider Trust My Travel.
2020 was invariably a challenging time, with managing refunds on behalf of our providers and supporting them to survive. It has obviously been tough for everyone, no one saw Armageddon coming and how it would affect so many businesses and livelihoods.
However, it also presented us with opportunities and we spent time working on our own financial failure, supplier failure insurance product, and upgrading our risk management system, which has been well received by acquirers and other trust companies.
We're looking forward to 2022 because we have so many great products to give providers in the market. Plus, hopefully, travel will open up more and more - life really is better when you can travel.
From our side it is, and to an extent always has been, about technology and the processes that we can automate.
We have spent a lot of time over the past year improving the reporting on the risk analysis side, which in turn is saving time, both in-house and for our clients, in analysing what is going on in their businesses, whilst continuing to put the financial protection of the customer at the forefront.
Our new Trust Protects service, launched in July, is a customer-facing website where consumers can check on the financial protection of their booking without the need to endlessly read all the small print, and continually check in with their travel provider.
It’s interesting because the pandemic has caused travellers to want more human interaction in some places, and less in others.
With the reputational damage that some companies suffered from issues such as refunds, travellers now want the reassurance that their holiday is protected. That there is a human at the end of the line, but the converse to that is that for airport check-ins, passport control, covid checks travellers have no desire for human interaction, and in the travel industry, in general, I think there is huge digital opportunity around this.
For us it’s about data and largely in the back end - linking payments into payments out for banks, acquirers, trust account providers, insurers in the market etc., so they have a real-time analysis of the risk, but in turn, will open up these crucial services to the travel providers themselves to enable them to keep doing business, especially with no one’s balance sheet looking particularly rosy after the last 18 months.
They haven’t really had a major impact on us during this period.
Up to 2019, the travel booking journey was more and more automated, with things like AI coming in.
In the next few years, this journey will continue to become more automated, but it needs to be tempered with reassurance and consumer confidence in the travel company.
Financial protection and booking security may not be the attractive side of it all but they will be crucial in encouraging good numbers of people to part with their money to travel.
I have to put my hand up and say the best advice is to know where your expertise is and where it isn’t. We buy in the tools and experience for exactly this reason.
It still, rather boringly, comes back to this financial protection theme. Through whatever channel you need to not only sell the glorious beach, the snow-covered mountains, or the fabulous city break, but reassure consumers that their money is safe and how it is safe.
2021/22 is about transparency - set your stall out on that side; highlight the key points in your terms that actually matter rather than just make them small print to be hidden away.
It really depends on who you are selling to and the type of products. The younger generations are all about digital, all about influencers.
The older generation, however, while they are becoming more tech-savvy, want the balance of both.
Know your customer and market to them in the appropriate way they will respond to.
It has to be our Trust Protects product and launch. Consumers are the most important part of financial protection and yet they are the ones who have nowhere really to go, so it was a product campaign that was very close to us and our values.
I always love the Tourism Australia films - always very clever and always make me want to go back Down Under.
It’s more a life thing than career but "do as you would be done by" has always stood me in good stead.
Overall, Will highlights a lot of relevant themes relating to both the pre and post-pandemic travel landscape, in particular how to make the most of the pandemic to identify new opportunities for growth, develop new products and service offerings, and the importance of putting the customer at the forefront of this innovation.
Having felt the brunt of the global pandemic during 2020 and 2021, many travel businesses have used this as an opportunity to determine what they really value and what is most important to them in order to reinvent themselves (in some cases), improve day-to-day operations, and develop innovative strategies to better mediate risks for their customers and themselves.
Additionally, Will focuses on the importance of understanding customer behaviours and their worries to help rebuild trust with travellers post-pandemic, highlighting how Trust My Travel developed their Trust Protects product - which was launched this July. This product specifically aims to reassure consumers that their bookings are financially protected in a clear and transparent way, which directly aids in the effort to repair the relationship between travel companies and their customers.
There is also a huge digital opportunity, both in terms of developing new digital products and digitising the traditional offline customer journeys such as documentation control and airport check-ins.
Finally, there are opportunities for brands to rethink how they convey themselves in their online and offline marketing activity. In areas such as UX, content marketing, and digital PR, brands can look to implement strategies that convey an in-depth understanding of their customers’ pain points, and promote their transparency across processes around cancellations, refunds, and booking changes.