Customer communication and brand building entered new orbits amidst the pandemic.
Communication strategies became fluid to changing stakeholder sentiments and will continue to be more personalised. We also discovered some old and new messaging pillars such as purpose, empathy, well-being, and safety.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected every industry, but the travel and hospitality industry was one of the most impacted. An industry that was slated to grow 10-fold at the start of 2020 came to a complete standstill and has been slowly picking up the pieces since then, although not at a desirable pace as public health and safety concerns continue to loom across the world. Despite the setbacks, the industry has shown great resilience and determination to regain pre-pandemic momentum. One of the things that has changed significantly, and perhaps irrevocably, is not just how we communicate but what we communicate.
During the pre-pandemic days, the whole world was competing for tourist and visitor attention, trying to find a unique positioning for their brand and the focus was to make travel irresistible. Travel communications was focused on creating a sense of desire and yearning in the hearts of their audience by putting out rich, diverse, and engaging content across platforms. Fast-forward to post-pandemic 2020 and people have become more cautious about the way they travel and more importantly where they travel.
In times like this, when consumer sentiment and sensitivities must be carefully considered, communication in travel has had to pivot from creating desire to creating a sense of assurance. Even though the general sentiment around travel is more optimistic now than before, majority of travellers are still on the fence about getting on the move. ‘Safety’ is now at the centre point of all conversations and will continue to be a key consideration even post pandemic. Perceived risks and travel constraints have a larger impact on travel decisions in today’s world.
It’s become increasingly important to help consumers make an informed decision, so they feel confident about their travel journeys. Companies need to focus on being transparent, compassionate and position themselves as experts who customers can trust. This not only helps consumers stay updated in real-time but also gives them a sense of security in getting the required information from a credible and reliable source.
As an industry that’s collaborative and driven on partnerships it’s also important to reassure consumers about measures taken with regards to their health, hygiene, and safety through unified and standardised communication. For example, large hotel chains frequently collaborate with franchisees and airlines from global alliances, making it their responsibility to ensure that safety and hygiene standards are upheld by all partners. We’ve seen many hoteliers taking measures like publishing thorough handbooks laying out cleanliness standards and expectations across their franchisees and alliances. Some nations, like Singapore, even have audit processes in place that allow hotels to receive third-party certification that they are adhering to cleanliness and safety standards. Steps like these go a long way in building trust among your audience and displaying a sense of accountability that your brand is here to look after them no matter where they go or whom they choose.
Among the emerging trends we see a growing number of consumers are considering more sustainable ways of travelling. Gone are the days of impromptu long-distance vacations, travel plans are now made well in advance. Digital adoption and transformation saw a quantum leap. With these rapid changes, communications across the industry have also had to adapt quickly, efficiently, and effectively. As one of the largest visa outsourcing and technology services specialists, we saw data privacy and protection become a key concern as more consumers moved online for travel planning & bookings. Therefore, educating customers through consistent communication on secure uploading of information and our stringent data privacy measures has contributed in building travellers trust.
The travel sector has bounced back from several shocks in the past. From terror strikes to economic slowdowns, the human desire to travel has triumphed all challenges. Pre-pandemic momentum is inevitable. As the industry upskills itself to become future-ready to similar risks, brand communicator must collectively work towards building robust public perception. Consumer confidence, in my view is an asset that must be nurtured through strategic communication, and this is right time to switch gears.
(The author is SVP and head - corporate communications and CSR, VFS Global.)