JoAnne Borselli, Group Brand Director, Connelly Partners
Every business segment has been impacted by COVID-19, but none has been hit at the same epic proportions as travel.
Everyone’s seen the stats. Countless employees have been laid off, with more to come as Congress stalls on further aid packages. Beyond the front-line (and typically lower- tenured) jobs, a lot of cuts have happened at the corporate level — of United. Of Marriott. And of every smaller hotel, airline, travel agency, restaurant and theme park. Employees with long tenure and deep experience have been let go.
What will that mean for the future of the industry? If long-tenured employees are replaced with 20- and 30-somethings who were still children during 9-11, will that matter? Or does the industry need such a major reinvention that historical perspective doesn’t mean anything?
As with most things, I like to believe the truth lies in the middle. If you’re a travel brand trying to “rethink normal” — or any kind of brand that’s been forced to cut personnel — here are some things to consider:
Less experience can equal new ideas. Use fresh perspectives to reimagine how you do business. Challenge your team to think in terms of “what if?” What would have happened if the founders of Uber had consulted with lifetime cab drivers when building their business? Rather than providing the standard amenity, one hotel brand is surprising guests by monitoring social media around its properties, and sending champagne to guests who got engaged earlier in the day.
A few years back, Four Seasons began selling its bedding online. Who would have predicted the brand loyalty that would create now, when guests are able to enjoy a little piece of the experience at home until it’s safe to visit again.
Use experience where and when it matters most. Hire an experienced consultant (even temporarily) who can help you avoid pitfalls when solving specific challenges. You don’t have time for mistakes. There are plenty of smart folks out there looking to share what they know. Maybe you’re looking at different ways to drive more revenue per booking. Hotels and airlines have been using dynamic pricing for years and have learned how to make those platforms work best. Use that experience to guide you quickly and avoid mistakes you might not see.
Look outside your teams for forward thinking and support. An agency partner can approach your brand with a fresh perspective. This is a time to think differently, to do the customer research and think about how that impacts who you are and what your relevance is. Then develop a brand promise that shows you’re listening.
It’s also a great time to look outside to help strengthen areas that have been weakened by layoffs, like: your paid search strategy, digital media trends, social media content. This might be the time to outsource until you can get your feet back on the ground.
For the industry to survive, it’s going to need to push outside of its comfort zone in a way it never has. Successful travel brands will find the magic between new perspectives and past experience, and use that magic to create a new vision for the future.