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18 May 2020 | Blog

An industry overhaul | Blog 1 | Redefining the customer journey

The author

Alex Thornton, Head of Account Management APAC, 15belowAlex Thornton is Head of Account Management APAC for 15below and has been supporting the customer community across the APAC region since 2012. Having worked in the travel industry for more than 25 years, Alex shares his extensive understanding of passenger experience in an ever-changing landscape with best-in-class brands like Qantas, Cathay Pacific and China Airlines.

 

I have been travelling since the late 70’s and, in hindsight, I feel privileged to have experienced the evolution of modern travel. Now, grounded in my home in Sydney with many of my family, friends and colleagues spread across the globe, I feel further from my loved ones than ever and cannot wait to feel the excitement of travel, and to be reunited with everyone again. 

But despite being a well-seasoned traveller, I do have a slight feeling of trepidation about what my next travel experience is going to be like. And it’s made me question what our industry can do to make the whole experience easier and lessen the inevitable stress that will come with it.

COVID-19 hit an ultra-fan and since then, we have been bombarded by all sorts of ‘new norms’ in every aspect of our lives. There are so many differing opinions out there that continue to divide us, many fuelled by fear and anxiety. But where we all agree is that we want answers, fast! 

Don’t forget, your passengers are feeling the same way.

We must be aware that as an industry, we need to be one global travel community and to speak with one voice: We are the ones that bring people together, not keep them apart. All of a sudden, globalisation is a frightening and threatening concept again, and we have a responsibility to collaborate, harmonise and bring back an even safer and more efficient industry – to make the new normal even better than before.

With this in mind, I have written a series of blog posts that look at some of the things that we need to start working on together

The customer journey must be redefined…

It was a relief to see industry bodies like IATA, ICAO, WHO, ERA and EASA start to form a collaborative narrative towards what the new customer journey will look like. 

But while considerations such as cleansing protocols, temperature testing, etc. are vital, what none of them has yet considered is that this is not just about the physical journey. The new customer journey will start way back before the booking even takes place.

The new customer journey will involve unique processes that will affect how we enable a person to travel through all of the regulatory and physical obstacles that need to be passed until they are on board. This will change everything. But to encourage travel again, we have to take the anxiety and fear of the unknown away from these new processes. We need to communicate. 

Reality check. Anxiety and fear.

There is so much we need to consider to build the level of passenger confidence that is going to get our industry moving again. I believe we should start with the following…

Travel Health Insurance: 
A lack of accessible travel insurance will hamper the industry’s recovery. We must work with our insurance partners to create offers that will support someone who needs medical assistance abroad, whilst avoiding a class system where only a few people who can afford expensive policies or private treatment can use them. Travel belongs to everyone, and so should healthcare. 

 

Bring flexibility to the forefront of your brand
Trusting that a brand will be flexible if things don’t work out will entice customers to book again. In the past we have seen OTAs introduce a small fee that allowed customers to cancel without having to produce a health certificate. This is a big revenue-generating opportunity for travel companies, at a small fee that gives the customer both value and peace of mind. 
 
Forward-thinking airlines like Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways are introducing flexible bookings to take the risk out of changes/cancellations. 
 
Flexibility is key, but it isn’t something we should abandon as bookings pick up. An ongoing flexible approach to changes, allowing customers to alter their journeys if they feel unwell or have lost the confidence to travel – without any questions – will be key to gaining long-term loyalty. 

 

Take a look at my next blog in the series where I look at where we need to go with health testing, uniforms and cleanliness.