November 27, 2020

Reset Recover Rise: Post COVID Travel and the Impact on Consumer Journeys

2021 is likely to be a significant reset point for airlines and their passengers. Expectations will change both from a consumer experience and operational basis. Here is the Plexus view on how this sector will embrace recovery, based on our current understanding and observations of audiences and brand activity.

Business travel is likely to resume – responsibly, both in terms of understanding of emissions and in terms of safety. C-Suites, Salespeople and essential workers at first, then on to more general business passengers.

Consumer confidence is already improving on the leisure side, exemplified by huge spikes of demand when travel corridors are opened. Bookings spiked +2000% immediately when the UK Government added Portugal to the country’s safe travel list. In terms of general optimism Skyscanner also state that 85% would be more likely to travel abroad if airport testing was in place.

Health status is going to be critical in mapping the path forward. Gatwick has just announced its rapid COVID screening centre, reflecting the need for bio-confirmation likely required from some airlines to fly. Going one step further, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be a condition of international air travel.

Day by day, the seeds of recovery are beginning to bear fruit. People arriving in England from abroad will be soon able to reduce their quarantine by more than half if they acquire a COVID test after five days, the Government has announced. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the scheme would “bolster international travel while keeping the public safe”. The travel industry welcomed the policy but described it as “long overdue”.

2021 is likely to include travel trends such as longer stays, sometimes referred to as bleisure (business/leisure). Passengers are less tied to one place now with established work from home practices. Adding on leisure trips to business travel or extending a stay at given location and working from there, prior to return, will add a new positive dimension to opportunities for brands. Sustainability and carbon neutral/positive credentials are also considerations that will more frequently addressed.

In general terms, the airport experience is going to change. COVID procedures will lead to longer dwell times. Even pre-COVID, airports were moving towards a frictionless experience. Now that’s a touchless experience. Change represents opportunity; maximising use of increased dwell time, taking advantage of increased awareness, and offering tangible value to consumers. 32% of passengers will pay more attention to screens and 87% approve brands providing practical information/tips which help people to deal with the situation (M1ndset 2020 bespoke Plexus research). So, more contextual thinking will enable messaging to become more effective.

AI will become more influential in delivering end to end travel solutions and adjusting them in real time to take changes into account. This generates huge opportunities for aligned, intelligent use of data. Understanding consumer movements and behaviours, and delivering the right message at the right time, to the right person will simply be more achievable.

Improvements in both airport experience and AI influence were in place some time before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 has served as an accelerator to these developments, towards the device-led, touchless process.

So, the future is with us and faster than expected! Without doubt we are at the beginning of a significant upward trajectory in the travel sector.

Out of Home industry research indicates that brands active during the crisis have benefited hugely. Advertisers who continued to invest in Out of Home performed strongly, demonstrating an average +51% shift in ad recall and increase of +16% for purchase intent.

The application of these principles, alongside creative contextualisation and the opportunity for positive brand association with the recovery, means there have been few better times to take advantage of the value available targeting travellers.

Tom Perrett, International Client Services Director Plexus, part of the Talon Group


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