A Guide for Travel, Hospitality & Dining Industries to Innovate & Recover

COVID-19 travel series.

The word Impossible being cut into I'm Possible.

Image source: Adobe Stock / tomertu.

Within a brief amount of time, COVID-19 has changed how travel, hospitality, and dining brands operate. Resilience, above all else, is proving to be key for these companies right now.

There are many challenges the industry is facing in connecting with customers to improve business during the disruption. Even with these struggles, there are ways to earn trust and loyalty through exceptional customer experiences by thinking out of the box about engagement, and innovating processes to help recover. Throughout this article, there are links on how to transform offline processes to digital, better understand your customers, and make communications proactive.

The focus for travel companies

Perhaps no industry has had as much upheaval as travel since the onset of COVID-19.

The recent closing of borders and mandated safety precautions has transformed everyone’s daily life and temporarily shuttered an industry designed to create memorable experiences. Travel and hospitality was the second highest sector in 2018 growing at 3.9%, contributing $8.8 trillion and 319 million jobs to the world economy, according to the Worldwide Travel & Tourism Council (WWTC). Now airlines, hotels, rental cars, travel agents and cruise lines have moved to manage safety and the health of travelers first and foremost.

Providing a singular focus for travel companies managing today’s challenges is impossible, but one crucial element for them is supporting customers worldwide who now must rethink and redo their travel plans. Digital has been the fastest way during this emergency to manage government mandates while travel brands are leaning into new ways to handle cancellations, providing more options, to ensure customers feel supported.

Consumers proactively began to reach out to call centers and across a variety of digital channels seeking support on how to manage trips. Due to the complexity of the emergency, the desire to connect with travel brands via phone is at an all-time high. Understanding the context and insights from call centers is paramount. How can this be done at scale? One way is through artificial intelligence. AI can be a critical path to create the right experiences for customers across their journey to get help. For example, AI can quickly uncover a high influx of requests on how to manage a travel credit, which would indicate a need to more clearly communicate policy changes. The right digital platform for managing customer experiences will have AI built in, and there will be resources (including some below) on how best to take advantage of it.

The sea of change in hospitality and dining

Restaurants seemingly overnight had to shift from in-person, one-to-one customer engagement to a whole new level of digital self-service. According to Yelp’s coronavirus economic impact report, “Delivery is 300x more popular than usual.”

Dining outlets have essentially pivoted to a 100% delivery or pick up. Other parts of the ecosystem like third-party delivery systems (think: Caviar and Doordash) are also supporting restaurants by staying open, reducing commissions to help them with revenue, and providing offers to customers. Getting to the bottom of all this new digital data will be imperative, and likely very new for dining establishments.

Additionally, as restaurants go online, there becomes a need for digital solutions to connect with customers, because diners ordering more food online are also likely going to expect to engage there. Now, restaurant owners and “front of house” staff should be considering how they orchestrate this new customer journey.

Resources to help you understand the entire customer journey, and how to approach orchestrating and personalizing in real time:

Recovery is top on everyone’s mind

Whether a small travel company or big airline, restaurant chain or food delivery service, travel, hospitality and dining companies need to build business resilience. Here are three strategies to guide the way.

1. Know your customer

Understanding your customer’s context is critical to serving them well in a crisis. With the virus shifting around the globe, various regions are in the midst of border restrictions while other areas may be beginning to open back up to travelers and diners. Use your data (and AI) to detect anomalies in customer behavior and look for signs of renewed interest that would reflect recovery.

Some customers willing to travel sooner than others during the recovery period:

Similar to travel, dining brands will have customers willing to eat out sooner and return to previous dining habits once restrictions have lifted:

Resources about how to get the right data, and how to truly know your customer:

2. Lean into digital self-service

For travel companies, as customer behavior rapidly changes from booking to high-volume cancellations, call centers are being overloaded with questions. Questions often may not align with the typical customer journey you set up because now policies are being re-evaluated and leniency on cancellation fees implemented (even on non-cancelable reservations). Personalizing the process of cancellations can support a customer through the climate of change with care. Taking insights from the call center through AI (as described above) and understanding what questions are being asked at a high rate, as well as building either a journey or resource of FAQ’s, can help mitigate the length of calls even if it doesn’t eliminate the calls altogether.

Travel companies can ease call center costs by:

Resources for travel companies to help connect call center with customer journeys:

For hospitality and dining, digital self-service might be a new “muscle” to flex. Are you partnering with food delivery operations? To continue to drive revenue, restaurants are depending on these outside delivery services while new procedures are being implemented for contactless drop-off. These changes require bridging the gap between physical and online strategies focusing offline to essential activities. Restaurant brands need to maintain a meaningful local presence but shift the primary business model to self-service. This requires not only adjusting operational resources, but digital resources.

How restaurants can manage brick & mortar to digital shifts:

Image souce: Adobe Stock / Pixsooz.

For many food establishments, it may be time to consider an ecommerce solution. Check out this a resource for companies in hospitality and dining who are selling directly to customers online:

3. Proactive empathic communication

In an emergency, people become either hyper-focused or they lose all focus. One of the best ways to support customers, build trust and gain loyalty is to become a trusted advisor. In travel, this means early and immediate communication on the issue at hand. Few people want to cancel a trip they have planned. Travel brands that have empathy for their grief and proactively thank them both digitally and in offline channels help stem some of the loss. Nearly 9 in 10 consumers are likely or very likely to shop with a brand who managed a crisis well.

For hospitality and dining, as well as travel, addressing areas where customer service might be delayed with a note of thanks helps to resolve some of the friction that can’t be mitigated due to various challenges. These could be delays in delivering food or providing timely service for a restaurant relying, or for travel this could be simply managing the excess volume of people needing support. No matter the industry, delivering real-time personalized messages gives meaning to the moment and allows consumers to feel supported.

Personalize communications to build trust no matter what channel.

For dining:

For travel:

Creating content at speed is a foundational element to real-time communications Check out these resources for both big and small businesses to see how.