COVID-19 has changed every industry and brands’ focus on customer loyalty and experience in a multitude of ways. For example, the take-out and delivery industry, has had to transform, but has also skyrocketed due to limited to or no indoor restaurant seating and retailers have had to significantly pivot over the last few months and continue to adapt to new rules, regulations, and customer expectations and many begin to welcome shoppers back in stores.
 
One of the industries that was hit the hardest by limited capacities, closures, and stay at home orders is the travel, tourism, and entertainment industry. As restrictions in several states and countries begin to ease, these brands are looking to resume business – although it may not be “as usual” for quite some time.
 
“The travel and hospitality industry has long been at the forefront of Loyalty programs,” Philip Gerstenfeld, Senior Director Client Success at Brierley, said. “Airlines and hotels had some of the first points or miles-based programs and were innovators again by making travel easier. For example, leading hotel companies such as Hilton and Marriott began letting loyalty members check-in online, pick their room or even create a digital key through the mobile application as early as 2014. Guests responded by increasing direct bookings, which helped improve the bottom line.”
 
Some well-known brands in the space, such as Cedar Fair, SeaWorld, and Disney World, have even started that transition and opened for guests. SeaWorld announced it would reopen June 11 and Disney World is planning a phased reopening in July, with its Magic Kingdom Park and Animal Kingdom reopening on July 11. Additionally, several casinos and hotels have begun to welcome back guests. Some locations on the Las Vegas Strip opened their doors for the first time in several weeks in early June.
 
One of the main questions as these brands reopening though, are what will they look like now and what are these brands changing to make it safer for both guests and staff?  Also, how can brands that are hyper-focused on “in-person” experience balance a need for a great experience, while keeping new restrictions in mind?
 
One brand working to do that is Disney, as the entertainment giant released its plan for reopening parks. It has paused parades and nighttime spectaculars, will require masks be worn, temperatures being checked for everyone going into the park, and staff will monitor social distancing. The brand has even enlisted a social distancing squad to make sure people are being safe. Other suspended features include character meet and greets as well as Fastpass+ and Extra Magic Hours.
 
Las Vegas casinos, with all the various touchpoints people have access to, have also started reopening, as mentioned above. One of the additions to these casinos is hand-washing stations with dispensers for gloves and masks, in addition to temperature screenings and social distancing between slots.
 
Cedar Fair has outlined multiple new guidelines it is enacting, which can be seen here. The biggest change has been the increased incorporation of its mobile app into the entire process. The brand’s shift to digital can be seen in every facet of the park experience. Guests now must make a reservation of a specific day and time prior to going to the park based on the capacity available. Then, when entering, the guest’s ticket, which will be on their mobile app, will be scanned as well as an initial health check.
 
While visiting the park, mobile and cashless payment options have been expanded to reduce interaction between guests and park staff. Additionally, the mobile app’s “mapping and wayfinding modules, which already allow guests to easily find things like restrooms and phone charging stations, are being leveraged to monitor potential overcrowding in various areas of the park throughout the day; this will help determine where to deploy crowd control measures and enable appropriate social distancing. These modules will also direct guests to the closest hand sanitizing stations.” Lastly, when exiting the park, there is enhanced guest surveys about the visit and location services on the app will help manage the flow of guests.
 
While these changes look to be mostly customer-focused, they will also help staff too. That is because separating the customers more and initiating social distancing will leave staff interacting with less people as well.
 
While travel has been on hold for many these least several weeks, some brands including American Airlines and Airbnb say that they have seen increased demand. According to an American Airlines press release, “We’re seeing a slow but steady rise in domestic demand. After a careful review of data, we’ve built a July schedule to match,” said Vasu Raja, American’s Senior Vice President of Network Strategy. “Our July schedule includes the smallest year-over-year capacity reduction since March. We’ll continue to look for prudent opportunities to restore service so our customers can travel whenever and wherever they are ready.”
 
This increase in demand has led American Airlines to increase its flight capacity, where it plans to fly more than 55 percent of its July 2019 domestic capacity in July 2020 as well as 20 percent of its international schedule compared to the previous year’s same time period. The brand is also looking to reopen its Admirals Clubs June 22 in various locations, with changes to them like plexiglass shields at reception and service desks, foot-operated door openers, hand sanitizers for customers, and social distancing signage.
 
“With guests now more concerned than ever about the cleanliness of where they stay, look for hotels to turn their attention and marketing to ways they are keeping their guests safe,” Gerstenfeld concluded. “More hotel chains will likely add digital keys to ramp up contactless check-in. Others will leverage their communication channels directly to members to share new cleaning procedures. Hotels should also look to supplement health and safety communications with more targeted messaging. There is a rich store of transactional and non-transactional data available. Dig deep into those files to remind guests what they love about your brand in addition to helping them feel safe.”
 

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