Comment: How to avert a crisis in consumer confidence
Published on Monday, October 14, 2019
Gillian Bell, director of client services at digital agency SYZYGY outlines how the industry can bring back consumer confidence after the demise of Thomas Cook
The very recent demise of Thomas Cook has understandably triggered a number of far-reaching ripples in the travel industry.
These impacts reach from concern and empathy for such a longstanding industry stalwart and its staff, through to a considerable amount of traveller unrest and growing mistrust. Many holidaymakers had put their faith in such an established name with planned trips months or even years ahead.
This very real and recent development factors into the shifting consumer attitudes and behaviour within the industry, going back well over a decade. This has seen many travel operators’ longstanding tactics and marketing plans being continually challenged when it comes to keeping pace with their customers.
Holidaymakers and business travellers are increasingly taking more direct control of their own travel plans, rather than looking to providers who can advise and shape an end-to end offer. These shifts in purchase patterns and planning are also taking place during Brexit and its uncertainties, impacting currency exchange rates, visa plans and even holiday insurance for Brits unused to facing additional costs when hopping over to the continent.
To assess if this confidence has dropped sharply over the last 12 months, we conducted a survey of 1,000 British leisure travellers.
It found that almost a third (31%) have seen their trust in advance holiday plans significantly shaken, agreeing that they are less confident than they were 12 months ago. One quarter are rethinking their travel plans, and 32% said they are reconsidering how much they were spending thanks to the ongoing discomfort of Brexit uncertainty. Some 29% even agreed it has impacted their destination choice.
The demise of Thomas Cook will have sharpened a lot of these issues for holidaymakers, hitting their trust in even the longest standing holiday operators – after all, if one of the UK’s largest can collapse, surely any operator could face the same fate.
Savvy operators won’t be acting as rabbits in these confidence headlights. They will be looking to their own existing audience data and analysis to identify how their customer base is reacting to these changes and adapting their marketing and media strategies accordingly.
Those leading the charge are focusing on getting the data approach right. This can take time and investment, but smart and agile travel operators are embarking on that journey right now. These tweaks to plans hinge on what you can do with the data you have to make smarter, more audience-led decisions. The aim is to engage and influence your customers at the right time, with the right creative message, in a context which invites response.
For example, if certain types of traveller are proving more susceptible to this hesitancy to book, brands need to communicate their benefits and entice them with too-good-to-miss deals, offers and inspiration while underlining reliability and trust.
Brands can optimise their spend and get much closer to those customers at the key times when they are more likely to book, if they use data to inform an emotionally engaging and personally relevant experience.
The current market is not, so far, stopping people from booking holidays entirely. It is directly influencing the kind of trips they are taking and the amount they are willing to commit in advance.
Savvy businesses will also be looking to inspire those who may be less concerned about the wider landscape, simply (and perhaps unconsciously) seeking the right inspiration or trigger to impulse buy. A report by Allianz Travel Assurance earlier this year found that millennial audiences were much more likely to take ‘micro-cations’ – essentially much shorter than usual, extended weekend breaks – so that they could visit more places within a year, but also because it was easier to book the time away from work.
Understanding this behavior can help to reach a specific audience at the right time, using the right message that spotlights the alluring or unusual nature of certain destinations.
Some businesses are already ahead of the game. Take legacy car rental operators. They are fighting a war on two fronts: keeping up with innovative tech-driven challenger brands, while simultaneously facing increased customer expectations in a commoditised marketplace.
Car rental booking is often undertaken near the end of the holiday planning journey, as a functional task. Acting as Avis’ digital architects, we identified an opportunity for the brand to connect with their customers much earlier on in this journey, when they are dreaming and looking for ideas online for their future escapes.
Moving away from commercially-focused, product-driven content, the approach switched gears and fused curated inspiration and traveller insight with destination and experience trends. The result was Avis Inspires, which entices customers on city breaks to escape the urban in their rental car.
So far, the brand has focused on Edinburgh, Barcelona and Portugal. This approach shapes an emotional connection and associates the incredible experience you can have when travelling by road with Avis and exploring a new destination.
The travel industry is no stranger to market uncertainty or indeed changing customer behaviours. However, addressing customer uncertainty is a real and pressing need, which could significantly impact business bottom lines as we head into a key period for next year’s summer holiday planning.
Companies which ignore this fact and stick to tried and tested tactics, rather than listening to the real concerns of their customers, are likely to lose ground to those businesses which can adapt and respond to these uncertain conditions.
This year has already seen Thomas Cook topple, and they’re not the first travel operator to fail to adapt sufficiently to changing market trends. It’s only by remaining agile to customer needs that brands stand a chance of remaining relevant.