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Reviews are key in a Covid-dominated travel market

10th Dec 2020
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For the travel sector, an effective anti-Covid-19 vaccine will be a godsend, helping restore the industry’s battered fortunes. While recent news indicates good progress is being made on this front, timelines for widespread rollout remains to be determined and in the meantime, consumer expectations have undertaken a shift. To be fit for the post-pandemic future, operators must adapt.

IATA, the airlines’ trade association, suggests air travel will not fully recover until 2023 but many travel companies in the domestic market are already planning ahead, using reviews, surveys and the insight gleaned from them as an important part of their evidence base.

What was the airlines’ loss has been a bonus for many domestic tourism operators. Hobourne Holiday Parks, for example, which operates across the south of England, became exceptionally busy once lockdown restrictions were lifted in the summer. Demand was high enough to prolong the normal season without discounts.

Gary Gough, Group Business Support Manager, said reviews and customer feedback informed the company’s strategy to retain guests who were new this year and to expand the overall customer base, emphasising the full range of what the company has to offer. “The customer feedback we have received has been positive and reaffirms we are going in the right direction,” he said. After much negative publicity for other operators earlier in the year, Hobourne acted quickly to offer reassurance about refunds and cancellations by introducing its Coronavirus Booking Guarantee.

Sweetcombe Cottage Holidays, a self-catering holiday booking agency focused on East Devon, also experienced high demand, which manager Polly Burns, said brought them a new demographic.  “We hope that by providing a top-class service, they will return,” she said. She said the emphasis was on using authentic reviews so “guests new and old will be reassured by ‘real’ previous guest reviews”.

The whole travel industry must adapt

In truth, success for both sides of the UK travel industry – domestic and outbound – will depend on how well they understand customers and adapt to new trends and priorities.

Outbound travel operators need to convince the public they are safe, not just in health terms, but in every other respect.

Domestic tourism companies, on the other hand, need to re-engage and retain the new customers that came to them this year and learn how they can adapt for more sustainable growth after normality returns. New customers often have different expectations – not just about the holiday but about the whole experience of browsing, booking and paying – which need to be met.

The pivotal role of customer feedback, campaigns and surveys

Reviews and customer insight platforms should be central to this and we can already see how this is working.

Flexitreks, for example, is a UK-based company offering more than 150 cycle holidays in Europe that was set to have its best summer this year. But after the first lockdown cut down demand, it used reviews to improve customer experience, especially around the refund/deferral process. Review requests were sent out to anyone who had booked, rather than solely those who had travelled with the company. “The results were very encouraging,” said co-founder Andrew Harmer. “The vast majority said they had been very impressed and would certainly book with us again.”

Reviews and feedback will guide companies on how to adapt

As some version of normality returns, reviews will play a huge role in convincing consumers to make a purchase. Research reveals that 94 per cent of consumers use reviews before doing so, especially when considering a significant item such as a holiday. The difference now is that businesses such as Hobourne, Sweetcombe and Flexitreks have realised they adapt their use of feedback to the new consumer expectations. Reviews about last year’s, pre-coronavirus holidays will not work for many prospective customers who remain worried about cancellations, deposits and virus-related health. Hobourne, for example is keen to stress its commitment to coronavirus-related hygiene, which will be a continuing concern.

Campaigns and short surveys

Companies with advanced, invitation-only review systems already have the advantage on their rivals in this respect. Consumers accessing reviews on these platforms know they have access to real opinions and trust what they read. Artificial intelligence tools give them fast access to the points they are most interested in. 

More advanced platforms also offer the ability to conduct fast, quick campaigns and surveys that bring detailed insight into specific areas of the customer journey such as browsing, booking, payment, altering requirements or dealing with third-parties such as car hire or taxi companies. This not only multiplies the feedback available to prospective customers, it shows an operator where improvements are necessary and where it should build on successes. More feedback also generates better search ratings and impact with online advertising.

Surveys should be anonymised, and like review requests, adapted to achieve the right tone of voice and subject for each audience. Net Promoter Score surveys provide highly useable outcomes in what should be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative results.

Short surveys from a recognised review platform have high email open rates, being both easy to complete and from a trusted source. One major advantage is they can be sent to browsers or consumers who are not yet customers, examing where or why they held off from booking.

As the UK’s travel industry adapts to some of the most substantial changes in consumer demand and expectation it has known, reviews and quick, targeted surveys have a huge role to play in how the market responds. The picture will certainly change for the short-term and perhaps longer. One thing is certain, however – all travel companies urgently need to gain better insights into their customers and their customer journeys, now and in the future.

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