Brent Blake, President, Acendas Travel
There are some activities for which we are conditioned to react negatively — regardless of the actual outcome.
Going to the dentist, cleaning the garage, running on the treadmill. We rarely associate the word “enjoy” with any of those efforts.
As a member of the travel industry, I hear much the same about traveling – specifically around the flying experience. But truth be told, too often our minds control the matter. Many of the routine duties we find to be painful, are at most minor inconveniences. Certainly, there is nothing minor about a root canal — I’ll admit that, but through advances in medicine, technology and science, life is easier — not to mention more safe — for us.
I bring this up in light of a recent report by J.D. Power, highlighting its annual traveler satisfaction survey for North America. I found this passage particularly interesting:
J.D. Power’s study found that while the airline industry lost more than $40 billion last year and passenger volume was down 60 percent, overall satisfaction among passengers was way higher than previous years. Airlines’ moves to significantly lower prices, eliminate fees, and enforce less strict ticket policies played a major role in keeping those who did travel during the pandemic happy. Ditching change fees led to a 47-point increase in customer satisfaction in the category, for example. If you work in the airline industry, give yourself a huge pat on the back.
I applaud the response of the travel industry knowing it was facing perhaps its biggest challenge ever. Significant pain occurred from the layoffs and financial losses, and the industry realized that change had to happen if a rebound was to occur. The actions were many across all sectors – air, hotels and resorts, rental cars, restaurants, attractions:
- Improved sanitization procedures
- Enhanced air filtration
- Touchless processes and transactions
- Masking and distancing guidelines and procedures
- On-site testing services
As was the case with the security measures put in place after 9/11, I believe we will come to accept this “new normal” of travel with little pushback. Not everything put in place will stay for the long term. Middle rows are now being filled on planes. Masking restrictions are being eliminated. Ocean cruising will return. But many of the actions will continue well after the pandemic ends. Enhanced air filtration, touchless transactions, enhanced sanitization will remain to a large extent.
And we will be better off for it, despite the initial reluctance to accept the change.
Here to Stay?
I must admit, I was skeptical about some of the airline actions staying in place, especially the waiving of change fees for seats above Basic Fare. Those represent a significant source of revenue for the airlines. But in a recent conversation with Delta Airlines officials, I was pleasantly surprised that they listened to their customers and the customers were happy. And if there is one thing you do not do, is mess with happiness!
Forever is a long time. Will the fee waivers stay in place for a while? My guess is they will. We are in a new era of travel and the customer response tells us they like what they see so far.
It will take a while for the travel industry to bounce back, but making the experience more enjoyable will certainly help.