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October 15, 2021 // //  //       //  Opinion

Holiday Travel: Will we Zoom or be zooming?

If 2020 was home to the holidays of Zoom calls and family celebrations, 2021 is projected to be the holidays of zoom… as in racing out of town to visit with family, if not to seek out warmer weather and a beach. But, will the travel industry truly see this coming?

A new survey by PWC confirms there’s a significant buildup of travel demand for the upcoming holiday season, since so many stayed home and took last year off. But will this demand translate to a rush to book travel early in the season before rental car reservations fill up and airline ticket prices skyrocket?

What transpired over the weekend with Southwest Airlines, with thousands of flights cancelled compounded by customer service challenges given so many employee cutbacks during the pandemic, introduces a question about consumer trust. Will travelers feel confident that airlines, hotels and rental car companies can creatively resolve winter travel challenges that may arise without leaving consumers out in the cold?

Investing in Care

To encourage consumers to invest their travel dollars in their brands, there’s a need for hotels, rental car companies, airlines and others to invest in not only recruiting new employees but also customer service training. Consumers putting travel plans on hold for nearly two years means their patience with long lines, new policies put in place since they last were on the road and unexpected travel disruptions will be rusty. 

While some airlines have turned to self-defense training to navigate a tracked rise of in-flight issues with passengers, there’s an opportunity to build authentic consumer trust and faith before they hit the road by training for new customer service challenges that may uniquely arise this holiday season. Communicating commitments to (and actions that demonstrate) care and understanding across a diversity of channels greatly helps build and maintain trust and loyalty – especially before travel plans are booked. 

The Value of Flexibility

Since so many families with younger children have been slow to return to normal travel plans, millions of moms and dads are refreshing their favorite news sites daily to learn when vaccinations may be available for children ages 5 through 11 – if not those under 5. While elementary school children are expected to have access to a vaccine before the holiday season, it’s possible an option for those under 5 won’t come until early in the new year. Holiday travel plans may also be compounded by parents looking to secure a booster shot, if they meet eligibility requirements. 

This introduces opportunities for travel companies to build and market creative programs that embrace younger families who may have concerns about traveling, but really want to get to grandma’s house for the holidays. This could include unique check-in lines for rental cars or hotels to how shared play areas are sanitized during peak travel hours. Providing flexible travel policies, such as greater flexibility with changing travel plans without significant penalties, will win the hearts of families whose travel decisions may change daily. Consumers certainly recognize how hard a hit the travel industry took during the pandemic. But marketing travel flexibility will help win the wallets of nervous families for holiday seasons to come.

Sharing Economy Will Win Big

While firming up travel plans early makes great financial sense, the reality is we should expect elevated last-minute travel plans, especially for families with younger children. Once younger children are vaccinated and booster shots are secured, confidence in exploring new destinations or traveling to see family should rise. Since that timing may be in the middle of the peak holiday season, hotels, flights and rental cars may be largely booked up.

But that’s a boom for Airbnb, Turo and other travel sharing economy brands, as families aim for more customized road trips in vehicles that match their unique family (if not vacation) needs to homes versus hotels that allow them to truly spread out, avoid crowded areas and oversee the sanitization of shared spaces.

It’s unlikely the holiday travel season will play out exactly the way many have gone before the pandemic. Consumers will likely experience rising rates for flights, cars and rooms, and travel brands are racing to add more employees to meet expected demand. The greatest gifts the travel industry can give consumers this year is authentic care, flexibility and patience.

As the head of Allison+Partners’ automotive specialty group, Marcus Gamo helps a diversity of brands navigate a new mobility culture and communicate unique visions for mobility’s future and how transportation is consumed through smart communications programs. With more than a decade of automotive and mobility industry experience, he architects strategic campaigns that deliver impactful communication for OEMs across the U.S., a leading technology and 5G chipmaker that powers connected transportation and autonomous cars, and global energy companies that introduce L2 and L3 EV chargers.

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