Amadeus' Mieke De Schepper argues that omnichannel strategies have a crucial role to play in meeting the changed expectations and demands of post-COVID travellers.

Throughout COVID-19, we have seen a significant shift from offline to online, with many businesses accelerating their digital capabilities, spotlighting the importance of an integrated approach to create better experiences for their customers.

With Statista forecasting nearly 50 billion network-connected devices in 2020, no doubt digital will gain more and more relevance as a method for search, purchase, and customer service. In this age of the connected customer, reaching them effectively will become the new battleground. 

Only those who take up a truly omnichannel approach will be able to emerge as winners. However, our survey revealed that omnichannel is not a priority for travel agencies, with only 20% surveyed planning to invest in it over the next five years - in Asia, it is as low as 7%.

COVID-19 has accelerated a change in behavioural patterns of the traveller and their expectations of travel sellers. The way they will travel, and purchase will change drastically in the short term. More than 60% of consumers who start shopping on one device switch to another, and the average accommodation purchase journey lasts 36 days and involves as many as 45 touchpoints across different devices and websites.

An omnichannel strategy that allows travel brands to respond to this ultra-connected landscape and the evolving customer needs is a must. To regain travellers’ trust and get them travelling again safely and efficiently, it will be crucial that travel brands offer a frictionless and convenient experience across all points of contact.

1. Travellers’ behaviour and expectations are changing rapidly

Pockets of the world where connectivity was once a dream are disappearing and consumers are operating far more complex eco-systems of networked devices. In this new, extensively connected world where digital devices reign supreme, travellers will be even more demanding than before. Safety, health, and hygiene issues will be critical at every stage of their journey. They will expect consistent information, in real-time, at the tip of their fingers regardless of the channel they use.

The opportunity for travel brands is immense. Every device, every screen, every touchpoint is an opportunity to connect with the traveller and deliver a superior customer experience. An omnichannel strategy allows travel brands to respond to the ultra-connected landscape and the evolving customer needs, creating a seamless experience.

2. An omnichannel strategy is vital to respond to traveller needs

The COVID-19 situation has spotlighted the importance of making it possible for travellers to interact across multiple touchpoints and delivering consistent services regardless of the channel they choose.

With an omnichannel strategy in place, travel sellers can optimise their call centres and handle customer queries more efficiently, especially in times of disruption. As channels get integrated, travellers can initially make contact via a chatbot or social media account and later switch to a phone.

It also allows the customer service reps to have a single view of the customer with all the information in one place, helping them understand customer’s preferences and needs. This leads to faster and more efficient responses avoiding disjointed communication, repetitive information, and, above all, customer frustration and dissatisfaction.

The current climate has also added many layers of complexities to travel, such as health checks and social distancing measures. Now more than ever, travellers will be looking for frictionless experiences across all stages of travel. Travel sellers who can remove this friction right from the initial booking stage through to the airport experience will succeed in rebuilding the traveller’s confidence.

3. Inspiring the traveller, the omnichannel way

The traveller experience in a digital and omnichannel world starts long before they book, beginning at the inspiration stage. This means travel companies need to design all digital interactions, including advertising, with the same, or even higher, attention that they deliver to travellers on-trip – regardless of the channel or the moment.

An omnichannel approach to marketing that serves (and exceeds) the traveller demands must consider the right travel context, even if the traveller has not started the trip. Advertising can help with this and deliver the right information to the appropriate traveller and/or travel seller.

4. Omnichannel means choice

Delivering on customer expectations, including an exceptional and personalised service means one thing – choice. And for that, travellers need to have all content options available through all channels, so they have the freedom to shop where, when and how they want.

As we continue to live with the possibility of travel disruption, the importance of being able to provide service on-trip has never been so important. Travellers need to know that their travel seller can respond to unpredictable situations with excellent customer service. That means having the ability not only to search and book content but also to service those bookings, regardless of the source of the content or the channel through which they were booked.

It’s important to present travellers with all content choices for their trip- air and beyond air. And by exposing that content via multiple channels and touchpoints, travel sellers can offer a consistent buying experience no matter how and where their travellers want to book their trip - via a self-booking tool or on a mobile or tablet, via a website, an office location or a chatbot. The same content, the same service, and freedom of choice for customers. That is the real vision for omnichannel.