EVP of Marketing and Innovation at VistaJet, board advisor and professor at the International University of Monaco.
About a year ago, we were seeing the dramatically escalating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on travel rules: closing borders, mass flight cancellations and stay-at-home orders. If marketing and communications professionals have overused one phrase over the past year, surely it was “we are living in unprecedented times.”
True as it was (and still is), our response to those times is just as important for shaping the future as the events themselves. As luxury marketers, we have the power to determine what lies ahead, both for our clients and for our businesses. The private travel industry has several important lessons to share.
Bain’s study, “The Future of Luxury: Bouncing Back from Covid-19,” shows the extent of the pandemic’s drastic impact on the industry. The study found that personal luxury goods have seen declines in 2020, but most “luxury experiences (including luxury hospitality, cruises and fine dining) were disproportionately impacted (–56% at current exchange rates)” and will be late to recover given their dependence on tourist flows. At the same time, as highlighted by Bain, the turmoil of Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change for the luxury industry.
From private aviation to hospitality, tour designers, concierge services and cruise liners, we have all faced severe impacts from the pandemic. While many private aviation companies (like VistaJet) have been well-insulated from its most devastating effects, we all operate in an ecosystem of private travel.
I believe a collective response to current events to determine what the future might hold is necessary. With this in mind, VistaJet partnered with Barton Consulting to survey hundreds of senior executives to see what the Covid-19 recovery process has in store for private travel. The research collected insights from over 600 global luxury industry experts and analyzed market trends, downfalls and opportunities at every step of consumer engagement.
According to our survey, “The Future of Private Travel,” 83% of businesses are concerned that customers will be hesitant to travel if they believe they will need to undergo any sort of hassle to do so. A major part of overcoming this obstacle is to make sure clients are regularly updated and reassured so they know providers are standing by to help them navigate anything — from Covid-19 vaccine passports to pre-travel testing and entry-bans in certain countries — even if the rules change overnight.
Clear communication is at the heart of managing the changes in customer expectations during the pandemic. The CEO of a travel group told me that his team has been contacting clients every week to keep them apprised of developments on global travel rules. This can be indispensable in not only reassuring them that they are in good hands, but also providing a chance to whet their appetites for new travel experiences at their next destination.
Our survey also showed one change that’s likely to stick around for the long-term: 78% of travel businesses have amended their cancellation policies to demonstrate to their clients that they are acting in totally good faith. A further 85% are expanding their offering to include services like digital concierges and automated check-ins to provide that added level of health and hygiene reassurance for their clients. A July 2020 travel survey from Oracle and Skift found that 76% of consumers surveyed want hotels to have flexible cancellation and refund policies; further, the survey found that 70% of hotels already have or are planning to adopt contactless technologies.
The most immediate goal is to restore confidence so that bookings do not stop. Can you prepare solutions addressing any concerns affecting your customers and potentially creating friction on the path to conversion? Nothing should stop you from being up front about safety, providing immediate solutions to cancellation concerns or offering a direct line for personal advice to any customer who might want more detailed information than what is normally included on a website.
I believe partnership will be of equal importance to recovering from the pandemic. Travel industry collaboration plays a central role in not only delivering a superior experience for clients during turbulent times, but also in making clients feel comfortable that all their needs are being looked after. In fact, 83% of the businesses surveyed in our “Future of Private Travel” report agreed that industry partnerships are highly valuable for brand positioning. A majority of businesses believed that partnerships improve overall customer satisfaction, while 66% said such relationships are already having a positive impact on their bottom line as we come out of Covid-19.
When customers are concerned about possible contagion touchpoints, why not create a seamless solution that minimizes them? For example, my company has partnered with yacht companies and bespoke hotel partners to offer door-to-door retreat solutions. Similarly, some chefs have offered bespoke home services in collaboration with delivery companies — anything to keep providing excellent services in a new environment. Fashion companies have partnered with tech companies to create immersive AR solutions and bring the at-home shopping experience to life.
The recovery in 2021 may yet be uncertain, but I think the clear sense of resilience — and, dare I say, optimism — held by travel industry leaders shows a positive path forward for all of us in the luxury travel sector.