The State of Travel

The world is desperate for some semblance of normality regarding travel. But the travel sector has been one of the hardest hit as a result of Covid-19, and a full recovery is far off. Due to both domestic and international restrictions, mass staff layoffs and sector bankruptcies, the travel sector is far from profitability and peak.

STA Travel and Specialist Leisure Group (running Shearings, and Cruise & Maritime Voyages) are examples of recent administrative closures since the outset of Covid-19. Global travel giant Flight Centre closed hundreds of underperforming high street offices during the pandemic. How then, are the end-users (holidaymakers) impacted? How can an entire sector and workforce bounce back from near obliteration, and do so swiftly? During this climate of hard lessons and even harder bottom lines, a handful of travel sector businesses flourished.

These businesses and their Covid-19 survival strategies offer a unique and valuable insight into how recovery for the wider industry might best be achieved. This article investigates exactly how and why these businesses were able to excel in such a complex and challenging sales environment. It aims to apply their approaches to a broader industry context, for the benefit of the travel sector (and end-users) as a whole.

 

Success Stories

The past two years saw profuse international coverage on Covid-19 cases aboard cruise ships. Often these ships were required to quarantine offshore for long periods, and passengers were restricted to their cabins for the duration of the quarantine period. It is no surprise that because of such coverage, the cruise ship market took a significant hit on current bookings, future sales, and the reimbursement of missed travel plans.

Despite this, however, two key industry players were able to stabilise and improve their market position. P&O Cruises and Cunard Line are Covid-19 success stories. They offer the wider travel industry not just a glimmer of hope for future recovery, but also a methodology to apply to accelerate that recovery. P&O Cruises Australia President Sture Myrmell said the company has “a big reservoir of loyal guests who are keen to cruise again as soon as it is possible to do so. Booking trends for the first part of 2022 are encouraging and compare well with the same period of pre-pandemic 2019”.

Cunard Line boasts their own Covid-19 Hub, which aims to promote ‘sailing with confidence’ amongst their loyal customers. Assurances relating to updated Covid-19 travel restrictions, travel flexibility options, booking guarantees and expectation management of onboard and onshore experiences all play a part in keeping their customers informed, inspired and faithful to the brand (Cunard Line, 2021). But these trust-building experiences are deceptively complex. They are not produced and promoted in a day. They are considered, strategic investments that serve their investors well in both good times and in bad. Such investments can be simple to overlook in times of booming business. But in times of negligible margins, such strategies can mark the difference between success and failure in the fates of many businesses.

 

Customer Experience Optimisation

The encouraging results of P&O Cruises and Cunard Lines in the face of adversity offer a roadmap to others in need of a strategic lifeline. Though each business, market share and audience are unique, broader parallels in learning can be applied for the benefit of other struggling businesses within the travel industry. For example, applying the principles of transparency, assurance, flexibility, and expectation management hold relevance to most other businesses.

Deeper strategic decisions and investments relating to the optimisation of customer experience then become the sticking point for those businesses willing to take survival strategies seriously or not. Much of the resistance comes from a lack of understanding of concepts and values. Decision-makers must empower themselves with knowledge on the concept of customer experience optimisation and learn from the success of others the value that such strategies offer to a business. Customer experience is not simply the services that they encounter during a transaction.

They are an ecosystem that includes attitudes, values, experiences, highs, lows, pleasant surprises, and disappointments. Understanding and valuing this ecosystem for your customers is pivotal. Incorporating this ideology into company culture and infrastructure is vital for the ecosystem to flourish. Investment in digital assets, customer service support, up-to-date information sources and communication lines to users are all part and parcel of this methodology.

 

Summary

Within a scarred industry, two leaders have emerged as front runners during the difficult times of Covid-19. P&O Cruises and Cunard Lines have demonstrated the value of applying a Customer Experience Optimisation strategy within their business. As an investment in growth as well as customer satisfaction, this approach has delivered positive results in the buffering against a perilous market. It has also seen growth within an otherwise bleak industry outlook. The travel industry as a whole ought to take notice of this approach and apply similar learnings within their strategic plans. At a time when the focus is on recovery, it is easy to forget that if the focus remains on the customer, recovery will surely follow.

 

Need a Little Help or got Some Questions?

At Eclipse we’ve got an incredibly talented, multi-award-winning bunch of people ready to help you and your business. Our Experience team are experts at this stuff and can guide you or offer advice and answer questions that you might have. All you need to do is reach out and talk to us.

There’s not much that can’t be solved with a few cups of tea, some bright people and a (currently virtual) whiteboard.