For travel brands navigating an uneven post-pandemic recovery, finding the right formula to meet the needs of fluctuating segments of travelers can seem like trying to hit a fast-moving target. Some travelers are using their unspent travel dollars from 2020 to plan their bucket list trips, and they expect to book all components of their dream vacations in one convenient place. Other travelers are more cost-conscious and are looking for the deep discounts they saw advertised during the pandemic. Business travelers aren't back in full force just yet, but they bring their own expectations for loyalty and a certain level of travel experience.

These are far from the only consumer segments travel companies are trying to serve during the recovery, but even this small cross-section seems to have competing priorities. How can a travel brand develop loyalty and booking strategies to meet all of its different needs at once?

To begin with, they should focus on three core priorities: value, options, and loyalty. Price may not be the primary consideration for some traveler segments, but every traveler can appreciate value. Providing a wide array of relevant options helps keep customers and loyalty program members spending within the travel brand's ecosystem, rather than venturing out to third-party booking sites or direct booking with other travel providers. And in an industry where loyalty can – and often does – have a real impact on the consumer's purchasing process, travel brands need to build up their loyalty capabilities to feature the options, value, and experiences travelers want.


Value

The travel industry's struggles in 2020 conditioned many travelers to expect steep discounts; meeting this expectation for value through the recovery will be critical. For travel brands, that should mean leveraging closed-user-group inventory sourcing to deliver high-value rates and including more instant-discount redemption options into their loyalty programs. A third of consumers plan to use travel credits or points to pay for all or a portion of their planned trips this year, according to an American Express study. Creating transparent earning and redemption options for these travelers will help travel brands capture more of their whole-trip spend.


Options

If the pandemic conditioned travelers to expect deep discounts, the past decade of familiarity with OTAs conditions consumers to expect a variety of options when booking their travel. Many travel brands will offer air, hotel, and car rental; that's expected of any company with travel booking capabilities. Giving customers and loyalty members the ability to book cruises, experiences, and alternative lodging helps to differentiate the brand and ensure travelers are spending through the brand's booking platform and not a competitor's. To get the most out of the recovery, travel companies should create as many booking, earning, and redemption options as possible to meet the needs of the broadest segment of potential travelers.


Loyalty

Travel brands should lean into their loyalty capabilities to recapture consumers who may have disengaged during the long layoff from travel. According to a McKinsey study, 75% of consumers tried a different store, website, or brand during the pandemic, and more than 20% of Americans switched their primary store or brand during the crisis. In the travel industry, where loyalty is often a key differentiator, companies need to optimize their loyalty strategies to maximize retention and new member attraction.

If travel companies can define their loyalty programs on their ability to deliver special value, provide relevant and desirable travel inventory, and create positive whole-trip experiences, they'll be able to meet the needs of all traveler segments. They'll also have given their programs the flexibility and agility to respond to future market changes and shifts in member priorities, whether that's capitalizing on the current spike in leisure travel demand or pivoting to meet other travel trends as they develop. And perhaps most importantly, they'll have positioned their loyalty programs to be growth engines, setting themselves up for success not only through the travel rebound but well into the future.
 
Alan Josephs is a seasoned travel industry veteran, and Chief Product Officer at arrivia, a travel technology company focused on dynamic packaging and loyalty solutions. He has 20+ years of tactical online travel experience with companies like Travelzoo, Allianz Global Assistance, and ebookers, where he led the delivery of the multi-million dollar new platform launch for Orbitz Worldwide.

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