Three Ways For Travel Brands To Earn Customer Loyalty

Lauren Gumport is the Director of Communications & Brand at travel insurance disruptor Faye.

If you’re one of the 73% of Americans ValuePenguin found have summer travel plans, you’re likely vexed by the rise in costs amid the complete chaos occurring at airports—from widespread cancellations to pilot shortages. All the while, we’re surrounded by news of layoffs and a possible impending recession.

At a time when it seems empathy from travel brands is the answer, many are doing the opposite by implementing clear—dare I say greedy—monetization strategies that seem geared toward taking advantage of a year of “revenge travel” in which many may be willing to shell out more cash to make up for trips canceled during the peak of the pandemic.

Case in point: Some airlines are now not only charging for checked luggage but also pieces you can carry on. And in an effort to persuade more travelers to opt into their rewards programs, some may encourage sign-ups as a way to promise no-fee carry-ons and the ability to board earlier so your bag isn’t checked against your will. And who wants a checked bag these days given the pileup that just happened at Heathrow?

All of this—the prices, the lines and so on—is unlikely to deter travel. I know many people are planning to take a trip (or two) this summer regardless of unpleasant flights. And this means consumer loyalty is up for grabs. So rather than alienating those looking to take to the skies without going for broke, travel brands can use this as an opportunity to showcase empathy, transparency and clear terms to mitigate much of the conflict and confusion that we’re seeing occur worldwide this season. In doing so, they’ll create brand cheerleaders for life.

Here are three examples of how they can do this.

1. Stop With The Hidden Fees

No one wants surprises when they travel—unless they come in the form of a complimentary upgrade or cocktail at check-in. But many brands aren’t getting the memo. In fact, many of us have come to expect surprise charges.

I’m now seeing consumers being dinged for amenities that we’ve considered to be included in existing fees for years, such as hotel parking for guests, early check-ins (not just late checkouts), poolside towels and lounge chairs, and airline headphones on domestic flight routes.

These small charges add up and can result in big bucks for brands who then come across as overly advantageous in making up for revenue lost during Covid-19. The big miss is that this starts out a trip on the wrong foot—especially with customers for whom affordable travel is top of mind. Companies should surprise and delight travelers; that’s what turns a good adventure into an excellent one and can ultimately culminate in five-star reviews and return visits.

Because hidden fees are becoming more apparent, I’ve seen travelers asking more questions upfront. My advice for travel brands: Stop nickel-and-diming your customers so they come back next year. And consumers: Avoid the headache and utilize third parties (like travel coaches and advisors) to ask these questions on your behalf pre-trip.

2. Don’t Make Trip Protection A Confusing Add-On

Trip protection tends to be a forgettable add-on via a box we feel pressured into checking following a hotel or flight booking. In fact, just the other day, I was booking flights to Greece and an ad popped up on-site that stated: “Add travel insurance in one click and just relax.” This was tempting considering the current travel climate.

In reality, many are likely to opt into these offers without understanding what the plans actually cover, only to find out about the minimal coverage they paid for when the you-know-what hits the fan. In fact, travel insurance distributors that work directly with flight and hotel booking platforms may take a super-high commission on these sales and provide minimal assistance.

For the airline and booking sites that offer these add-ons, it’s time to detail more information—from reimbursement caps on travel inconveniences (which are all too common right now) to preexisting medical condition coverage.

3. Show Compassion Without Strings Attached

Given the current travel climate, many need to nix their plans for reasons outside of their control—including contracting Covid-19. That’s why brands should bake empathy and understanding into their communication with consumers.

It’s time that airlines drop any misleading advertisements of free cancellation and change policies if these come tied to limitations. Some carriers won’t reimburse you in cash, but instead with vouchers that are only good for a specific time period. That doesn’t seem fair given many have specific time periods in which they can travel—from families on break to students who can’t miss class.

Consumers, read the fine print and consider opting for airlines that offer more flexibility in cases in which you need to cancel. Those are the ones that I believe deserve your business.

Know That Higher Expectations Have Landed

If travel brands take advantage of consumers’ desperation to travel while being treated in what I can only define as a mediocre way, what I think we’ll see by the end of the year—or even by the end of summer—are new brands popping up that value long-term relationship-building with travelers who deserve it most.

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

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