What will a post COVID-19 consumer look like for travel? | TravelResearchOnline

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What will a post COVID-19 consumer look like for travel?

We are going to get out of this. That is a given. But for now, many of us are still under some form or restriction as the nation is cautiously looking to other areas to see if re-opening the economy can be done without a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. But I wonder what will happen when the “all-clear” signal (or maybe it is a “kinda-clear” signal) is given?

To be honest, it is anyone’s guess; but as I sit here thinking about my own buying habits, I believe trust and loyalty will play significant roles in the new behavior of consumers.

Trust

Twelve weeks ago, I would walk into any store and browse the merchandise. It was a no-brainer and when my girlfriend and I would be visiting a new town, the phrase “oh this looks like a neat place, let’s check it out” was uttered often.  Tomorrow, I doubt it.  With this threat of the virus lingering, I will need to know more. What precautions are they taking? How are they protecting their employees? The same goes for restaurants. It will be a while before we rattle off a list of places for dinner assuming all will be equally acceptable. I am now going to be very selective based on the trust I have with the business. If I trust that they are looking out for me, I am more apt to shop or dine.

And that trust also comes into our world as well. We will need to re-evaluate preferred supplier relationships to make sure we are dealing with suppliers that are trustworthy in the viral sense. This may be easy for the cruise lines because they control 90% of the product; but not as easy for tour operators that typically control very little of the product. The airlines will all be adopting different models for physical distancing and disinfecting. And if you are in a brick and mortar operation, there are more expenses to be added to insure the safety of your staff and clients—regular disinfecting, masks, perhaps a reconfiguration of the office, etc .

Establishing trust will be critical and the steps that you are taking to earn that trust need to be front and center for your client.

Loyalty

Many smaller businesses remain open, most of those in a limited way. Typically they are providing an essential (not the legal definition) service to the consumer. And for the businesses, the consumers who are patronizing them are throwing them a lifeline. The other day I wanted to get a specific liquor from the liquor store (because where else do you shop in a pandemic?). I could not recall the name, but knew the general design of the label. This was a problem with curbside pick-up and the clerk went inside and came out with three potential solutions—one of which was what I wanted. He went above and beyond being a liquor store clerk and became my personal shopper for 15 minutes. He earned my loyalty and that store (which used to be one of a few I frequented) has now become my liquor store.

Travel businesses are the same. Are you there for your clients when they need you? Were you communicating with them during this time? Hopefully you didn’t have any stranded, but if you did, were you assuring that all was well? As I have mentioned before, loyalty is not granted, it is earned, and moving forward this must be a critical piece of your core mission.

What about online sales?

Unfortunately, I think the travel industry will cede some market share to the online world. The past eight weeks have pushed more and more consumers online. Amazon and Walmart are the 800-pound gorillas, but people are now content to order more products and services online—from groceries, to McDonalds. My dog groomer has an app and when her shop closed, she moved to a mobile business so I can go online to her app and arrange my next dog haircut—I wish I could do it for me, but that is a different story.

Retail is changing fast. In my community Nordstroms, Sears, Brooks Brothers, and several large chain restaurants have all closed permanently. Macy’s and JC Penney are very close behind and I know that online commerce played giant roles in their demise.

And while we are not traditional retail, we must realize that customers are shopping in different ways and to remain competitive, we need to meet them where they are shopping. The personal touch will never be replaced; but we can use technology to reel them in and hopefully the consortia, franchises, and hosts are working on that.

Definitely a lot of food for thought as we navigate re-opening or businesses. Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

And if you missed the survey we put up last week, here’s a link.  It will only take a few minutes, I’d appreciate your thoughts, and I will share the responses next Monday!

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