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As travel companies determine how to navigate the “new normal,” brands preparing themselves for long-lasting changes to the sector should pay close attention to the retailing experience.
Travel retail has evolved into a highly complex, challenging environment for providers and sellers to engage travelers effectively. However, while we were getting closer to reaching that nirvana, COVID‐19 is now impacting everything in travel.
Before global citizens went into lockdown from the COVID‐19 pandemic, more than 50% of global e-commerce sales were made through online marketplaces, contributing $1.7 trillion to the economy in 2019 according to WebRetailer.
That’s a trend that will continue to grow as we make our way through recovery. Many have discussed the global shift to marketplace‐powered, consumer‐preference-guided online shopping and its potential in the travel industry.
Giving travelers insight and control to plan travel
In normal times, whether booking a trip or shopping for shoes online, consumers largely expect the same kind of shopping experience. In both cases, businesses need to present the most relevant options to motivate customers to purchase, while ensuring an efficient and enjoyable service.
Consumers not only expect to see personalized options presented to them, they want to see the add‐on options available, whether that’s with a flashy pair of shoelaces or an option for an increased baggage allowance while purchasing a skiing holiday.
In fact, again in normal times, our consumer trends research found that travelers want to gain more control over customizing their trips, with 42% of our surveyed respondents saying they want the ability to purchase a meal upgrade or seat with extra legroom while booking.
Travel consumers also shared that push notifications were useful, with 82% saying that the most important are price changes for a flight they are considering, 81% wanting a reminder of a booking in‐progress and 74% preferring new products or services available.
However, that is in normal times… Today is not normal.
We have heard from both travel agency and travel suppliers that they need to quickly augment, or make wholesale changes to, the information they make available in shopping.
So, what is different? The pandemic made clear that what is valuable is information about cleaning processes, contactless check‐in, air filtration, access to sanitation stations, etc. Where retailing had been about revenue optimization and conversion, it is now about demand generation – getting people back into airline seats and in hotel rooms at all. Enabling consumer sentiment to be more accepting of traveling and the safety procedures behind that has become the message of the day.
As an example of this, just in the last couple of weeks, Travelport worked with IHG and Marriott, two of our largest hotel partners, to utilize descriptive space on the GDS screens for their marketing needs. Within 48 hours of initial testing, they had loaded their clean room policies in our search and availability screens with a link to their respective campaigns on cleanliness.
Other hoteliers are now following this lead. This supports consumers' confidence and helps market their new policies as hotels start to reopen.
Thus, the investments that the industry has been making for retail optimization were imminently transferable, and immediately available, for making potential travelers feel good about their decision to travel – the insight to plan travel.
A retail marketplace to drive recovery
Digital retail marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Shopify have made it easier to meet emerging demand with supply, utilizing retailers with enhanced digital storefronts. The tools provided by these marketplace platforms help retailers create experiences that allow shoppers to easily find, buy, return or exchange the merchandise they want from a broad range of suppliers.
Agencies and airlines were able to do the same through a flexible marketplace that could be quickly swapped to focus on why travel is safe and how it can be easily rebooked or canceled.
When Shopify emerged, smaller alternative retailers could suddenly compete with sophisticated retail giants using new tools that enabled personalized selling and upselling in any channel (online, on social media or in person). The Shopify platform offered a much‐needed connection between suppliers and retailers, giving retailers access to any type of content and the ability to easily create an online store, tailor product displays and attract specific target markets.
These capabilities allowed retailers to create experiences that drive the “want” from consumers, creating demand. Capabilities like marketing, order fulfillment and inventory management solutions that the platform offers have essentially enhanced collaboration between suppliers and retailers, along with access to the critical tools to deliver personalized retail shopping experiences.
While nobody knows the exact future of the travel world, we do know it will require the ability to effectively retail, increasingly at a personal level, while stimulating demand. And it will need systems with the flexibility to respond to a changing environment.
In our new landscape, our flexible, marketplace platforms provide the tools and content needed to enable large or small retailers and new entrants to be nimbler and to quickly stimulate demand – both in traditional retail and for creative travel agencies in travel retail.
That is where we’ve been focused, as well as where we continue to focus going forward. The Travelport platform has been evolving to support these changes, and our next generation platform is specifically designed to foster that flexibility.