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How to prepare for a post-pandemic surge in the travel and hospitality industry

After more than a year of canceled trips and sheltering in place, travelers around the world are keen to get out and explore. That's music to the industry's ears, after a 76% decline in international travel in 2020 according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Those with a case of wanderlust are getting ready to travel in whatever ways they can. In Expedia Group's 2021 Travel Trends Report, which polled 2,200 people at the end of 2020, 46% of respondents said they'd be willing to travel when vaccines became more widespread. That time is now — and it means inbound inquiries will be increasing as people take their first steps back to normality.

Already, the TSA is reporting an uptick in the number of passengers passing through checkpoints. Taking a look at the TSA's figures for April 2019, 70.5 million people traveled through a U.S. airport. In 2020, it was 3.3 million, and for the first half of 2021, it was back up to 41.8 million. Part of this increase comes from “revenge travel," a new term coined to describe the need to make up for lost time by booking extensive and/or expensive trips.

With vaccine rollouts around the world picking up speed, an increasing number of people are feeling a renewed desire to travel. Travel and hospitality brands need to prepare for a sudden influx of bookings and requests from people eager to get out of the house and explore beyond their own four walls.

What the travel and hospitality industry can expect

Travel brands have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic but many have managed to adapt, allowing them to weather the storm. A large part of that resilience is owed to improved communications with customers — but, as things pick up, the travel and hospitality customer experience will need to be flexible. Fundamentally, that means your customer experience needs to be better than ever. Brands will be able to stand out and gain a competitive edge if they are able to make people feel safe and valued.

And while a number of things have changed in the industry, a few things remain the same. The importance of knowing who your customer is and what their expectations are, is one of those constants. The Expedia report predicts married couples and urbanites will be the first to venture out, and that people may prefer to take longer trips and stay in one area as a tentative first step back into the travel lifestyle. Ensuring that you're offering a customer experience that caters to different demographics and their post-pandemic preferences will be key.

Be ready for pandemic-specific inquiries

While the appetite for travel and hospitality experiences is building, there may be some customers with hesitations that will require reassurance. This means that brands will need to ensure COVID-specific information is properly documented and relayed to your customer support team so they can provide accurate responses. It's important to know where your company stands when it comes to masks, cleaning protocols, vaccine requirements and physical distancing. You'll also need to define a clear cancellation policy that details what happens if a booking is affected by the global pandemic.

Customer service teams should have easy access to an updated knowledge base outlining this information and be provided with comprehensive training on how to handle inquiries related to COVID-19. This allows you, as a brand, to work on positive language and solutions that will please customers as they venture back out into the world.

Utilize self-service options

Enabling customers to resolve basic issues or concerns via self-service channels can help reduce the strain on busy customer service teams. Utilizing tools like automated chatbots and detailed FAQ sections on your website will help customers find what they're looking for without the need for direct contact. It's important to note that some customers may still want to connect to an agent directly — but ensuring self-service resources are available can be an excellent way to manage volume while maintaining a positive customer experience.

Monitor for missteps

As you scale to meet volume, it can be easy to negate quality in order to meet quantity. Make sure your brand continues to monitor KPIs to ensure consistency and course correct if metrics like CSAT start to dip. If you find that customers are having to wait longer, are less satisfied or aren't being served to your usual standard, it might be time to consider additional resources.

Working with an experienced customer care provider who is capable of ramping up as needed is a great response to increased engagement from customers. This can prevent pushing your already-stretched team and potentially reducing the standard of the service they're able to offer. Look for a company that provides proper training that's specific to your business and is able to scale with demand. This will help you maintain quality and perhaps even level up the travel and hospitality customer experience you provide.

With 44% of the Expedia respondents saying they'll take more trips in 2021 compared to last year, it's clear that demand will increase significantly as the year goes on. Having a knowledgeable customer service team with a proven track record of scaling without sacrificing quality will be the key to success as those bookings start rolling in.

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