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Many businesses are using this time to rethink and restructure the way they should operate. For those who have sufficient resources to survive this crunch, they’re already planning for the future. The plight of the airline and hotel space is no different. As planes sit idle and hotels remain empty, the next challenge will be to gather customer attention and business once normal operations resume.
Not too long ago, the market was chugging along at a good pace. Airline and hotel marketing was largely focused on snatching market share from competitors and grabbing a bigger share of wallet. Once normal operations resume, airlines and hotels will first focus on one thing only. They’ll first want people to get back into the habit of traveling. These campaigns or deals will particularly target ‘fence sitters’. Travelers who don’t usually fly for work and are sitting on the fence about booking their first trip on resumption.
Pricing will play a key factor in getting fence sitters to travel again. What we could see in the short run is lower fares and ‘flash sales’ to redeem your miles and better award availability in general.
From a product and branding standpoint, the whole focus will be on a few key components.
When a business gets horribly hit on the business side, the brand inevitably suffers. The taxpayer funded bailout of the travel industry has only further eroded the travel industry’s brand equity. The next phase of airline and hotel branding will be totally focused on one thing – to earn back the trust of customers. Here are the key USPs (Unique Selling Proposition) that you’ll see travel branding centered around.
Airlines have already irked many frequent travelers with the whole refund v/s voucher saga until the DoT stepped in. To add to that, the government has stepped in and bailed out the industry. Consumer trust is at an all time low. Expect travel branding to heavily focus on getting consumer trust back.
How will they do it? Expect them to tell you a lot more through their social media pages and other marketing channels about how they’re putting people back to work and how they’re serving their communities.
Also, expect a lot of blue, green and white colors used while messaging to customers. Red will be put on the back burner for a while.
Safety and Hygiene
Believe it or not, this is going to be a differentiation factor in the short term. As consumers get even more concerned about health and hygiene, expect travel marketing to use that as a point of differentiation.
How will they do it? Expect they to tell you a lot more about how they’r retraining their workers to meet hygiene standards and how their health and safety requirements are ‘best in class’.
Mere compliance with regulatory authorities will no longer cut it. Expect travel companies to highlight how they’re going above and beyond.
When it comes to pricing your product, there are two key components – the ability and willingness to pay. When the market was good, many consumers ticket both boxes. As the market bounces back, companies will be focused on generating consumer spend from those who have the ability but may not be willing to travel immediately.
On the other hand, for those customers who have the willingness but may not have the ability, expect co-branded credit cards to offer higher than usual welcome bonuses. Also, we could well see Amex offer similar offers to some of the 0% Plan It offers we’ve seen for Hilton hotels.
We’re already seeing a slight change in the distribution model. Amex recently increased the refer-a-friend bonuses for their cards. I won’t be surprised if other banks also improve incentives on less expensive channels in order to earn new customers. Who knows, we could see airline mileage program referral offers also make a comeback.
The Pundit’s Mantra
As we all hope for a quick recovery, I hope this post was able to shed some light on how airline and hotel marketing will look to earn your business once normal operations resume. My goal behind writing this post was to help you understand what goes behind the scenes of some of the deals and offers that you see.
Is there a hotel or airline brand that you trust and would be comfortable to resume travel with right away? Do you think travel companies will walk the talk with their marketing messages? Let us know in the comments section.
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