The travel industry had seen consistent growth leading up to 2020 — even when hit by other crises that affected global economies. But the travel industry, without a doubt, has been amongst the hardest-hit by the global pandemic.

International mobility decreased by 65% due to COVID-19, a historical low for the World Openness Score. And COVID-19 global tourism recovery scenarios showed a decline of 35% to 48% in terms of global tourism expenditures lost in 2020 compared to 2019, McKinsey reports. That translates to the top 10 tourism markets losing $1.4 trillion to $1.9 trillion in travel spend in one year.

While some travel organizations responded quickly to retain customer goodwill, many tapped into new sources of revenue and liquidity, and shifted focus to new innovation and improved customer experiences. As COVID-19 vaccines become more widespread, there is increasing optimism that the industry will rebound. The question is, will you be ready for it?

3 key priorities for the travel industry

The pandemic has helped reinforce key fundamentals about the travel industry that will have increased importance over the next 12 to 18 months.

  1. Leaders in this space understand that travel is a deeply personal experience, and offering new and unique experiences to customers with very different preferences is key to success.
  2. Every experience is made up of the sum total of each touchpoint and event. From dreaming and researching a trip to being at the resort and sharing memories of it afterwards.
  3. A direct result of the pandemic, there is a need to instill confidence with travelers by providing relevant safety and health information that is simple and easy to access, while tailored to the individual.

To deliver on these fundamentals and stand out from the competition, companies need to push beyond their traditional customer experience philosophies and organize their businesses around the delivery of exceptional brand experiences. This is what is called the Business of Experience (BX), as coined by Accenture, whose research uncovered that BX leaders, grew their year-on-year profitability by at least six times over their industry peers.

It'll be crucial for all organizations to focus on delivering stand-out customer experience for travelers across their entire organization. Those that do will emerge stronger, with sustainable growth and improved customer loyalty.

3 steps for driving sustainable growth and loyalty

Here are three key steps for better success in the travel industry:

1. Turn your data into real-time insight to get a single view of travelers.

Creating a single customer view across all channels that connects all customer, product, and operational data enables greater actionable insights and empowers you to deliver true 1-to-1 personalization.

Although this is not as simple as flipping a switch, the dividends pay off. Leading companies are twice as likely (55% vs. 26%) to say they have the ability to translate customer data into actions. Outcomes include lower customer acquisition costs, accelerated conversion rates, improved customer engagement and loyalty, as well as higher lifetime value.

For instance, Jetstar, a Sitecore customer, connects data from its web and mobile sites, Oracle Responsys, and its reservation system, creating a singular, contextual, and dynamic view of each customer. In addition to an initial import of 8.6 million historical orders, it connects 110 million events and 440,000 orders in real time per month across all its channels.

To get the most of this huge volume of data, Jetstar leverages artificial intelligence (AI). The AI technology assesses data about the customer and executes based on their customer profile or auto-personalization rules, serving up relevant content through the most appropriate channels – as interactions are taking place.

This ability to respond to customer behavior in real time resulted in significant uplifts in key metrics:

  • Through customers taking action or conversions, Jetstar estimated a revenue uplift of €2.1 million in just eight months.
  • By delivering personalized and targeted cross-sell and up-sell, Jetstar drove €450.000 in incremental ancillary revenue.
  • Jetstar recovered €4.5 million in revenue by re-targeting customers who had abandoned carts or left ancillary products in carts.

2. Enable content velocity to power personalized experiences.

Even with all the right customer data, you’ll still need to serve the customer the right content. Furthermore, to power personalized experiences for every traveler, you’ll need to serve up the right content, on the right device, every time. Increasing content output is key.

Having the ability to produce “just-in-time content” has become crucial as over 70% of companies are now creating 10x more assets than before just to keep up with customer demand. For travel in particular, this is important because 86% of travelers say they have become interested in a specific holiday destination after seeing specific content about it online.

One global hotel group that uses Sitecore embraced this content challenge and centralized multiple content silos into one platform. The organization was able to bring together a huge number of assets (750,000) that had a high search volume among the employees and enabled flexible redistribution of assets into multiple channels and across several applications (e.g. websites, marketing campaigns, mobile apps etc.). As a result, the hotel group was able to create an easy-to-use system that made it simple for employees to search, find, and update assets, as well as deliver them to the right channels, at the right time.

Utilizing a Digital Asset Management (DAM) platform enables the hotel to create personalized content and deliver operational cost efficiencies. With every agency touch estimated at $50, the ability to automatically convert high-resolution master images to appropriate sizes for social posts, web banners, thumbnails, etc. delivers significant time and cost savings with its agencies.

3. Deliver personalized experiences across multiple channels.

The number of digital channels will continue to grow. YouGov reported 71% of people use their mobile to board their flight and 53% used their mobile device to book activities while away. Many brands are also turning to digital screens and signage, virtual concierge, Bluetooth and other technologies that allow for personalization. But the key is to be consistent from pre- to post-travel experience, utilizing the same source of data and content.

Utilizing Sitecore, Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai has delivered a best-in-class digital experience that mirrors on-property excellence with personalized, omnichannel customer experiences. This has enabled it to increase net-new bookings on rooms, activities, and restaurants, with 46% higher value per site visit. Personalized offers drove conversion uplifts of up to 1500%.

While it remains to be seen when travel will reach pre-pandemic volumes, it is vital that travel organizations focus on these three priorities and ensure that when customers engage with them, they’re getting the experience they’re expecting. Start delivering a brand experience that brings together customer data, empowering you to deliver the right content across every channel. Doing this will instill confidence in your travelers, leading to faster growth and better loyalty.

To learn more about these steps for success, contact us.

Michael Plimsoll is the Senior Director of Industry Strategy and Marketing at Sitecore. Connect with him on LinkedIn