Rebooting Customer Experience to Bring Back the Magic of Travel – McKinsey & Company

In the 2020 report, “The travel industry turned upside down,” McKinsey & Company partnered with Skift Research to document the unprecedented impact that COVID – 19 had on the travel sector. One year later, we find that the travel sector is bouncing back  – yet recovery still has a long way to go.

Although 2021 performance has improved considerably, the Skift Recovery Index shows it is still 35 percent below pre – pandemic levels globally. Furthermore, different geographies tell vastly different recovery stories as a result of varying travel restrictions, COVID – 19 case counts, and the strength of domestic travel markets. North America shows strong recovery performance, while many Asian countries are showing lower recovery scores as they remain far more cautious in opening their borders

In this report, McKinsey and Skift Research assess the current traveler experience and find mixed signals. While surveys and customer satisfaction rating analyses show many travelers are satisfied with their experiences – some, surprisingly, more so than before COVID – 19 – a deeper look at the data reveals troubling undercurrents.

Despite high satisfaction ratings, negative sentiment is on the rise. Furthermore, operational capacity is strained, staffing challenges are widespread, airline complaints are up, rental cars are hard to come by, and hotel amenities and services remain substantially pared down.

Given the seeming contradiction between performance and satisfaction, the true situation may simply be that leisure travelers are happy to be on the road again after a year of being stuck at home. As travel volumes increase and business travelers return, there is potential for a wave of customer dissatisfaction – at a time when loyalty is up for grabs.

Will travel players manage to reboot customer experience before travelers’ “honeymoon phase” comes to an end? Or will thinning customer patience shock the system?

Customer experience is the challenge of the recovery

Whether it’s more tailored products, greater digital parity with analog services, or faster turnaround, customer expectations of what great customer experience (CX) looks like have shifted significantly. COVID – 19 only accelerated these trends, leaving the travel ecosystem in a game of catch – up.

In this changing landscape, travel companies that prioritize CX can gain loyalty, build resilience, and future – proof their businesses.

Yet while travel executives may believe their companies deliver strong CX today, our research indicates there is room for improvement. Common challenges include inconsistency in CX across products, services, and digital; difficulty predicting customers’ sentiment without having to ask them; and time lags in going to market with updates, releases and enhancements.

This report explores the critical role of CX in the travel industry at this pivotal moment in time. Travel executives can ask themselves:

  • Do you believe your customer experience is consistently high across product, service and digital? Research shows that you can aim higher.
  • Do you know the sentiment of your customers without ever having to ask them? Research shows that you can understand your customers more deeply.
  • Do you move as fast today as you did when the pandemic first struck? Research shows that you can move faster.
  • Ultimately, how can you be more intentional about unlocking the value of customer experience and bringing back the magic of travel?

Travel companies are still absorbing COVID – 19’s financial impact, and investing in CX now may seem too great a burden for many of them. But companies that prioritize CX during a downturn stand to outperform their competition for years to come – as McKinsey research on the 2007 – 09 downturn has shown. Indeed, wise investment in CX may be key to the industry’s survival, and flourishing, in a post – pandemic world.

There are mixed signals around the current customer experience

As travel volumes are starting to return in many parts of the world, stories have begun to surface about problematic travel experiences. Has the travel experience in fact gotten worse? The answer is not clear cut as there are mixed signals around the current customer experience.

On the surface, traveler satisfaction does not appear to have declined during the pandemic

Perhaps surprisingly, Skift Research’s Traveler Tracker survey found that more than 80 percent of leisure travelers were satisfied with their Summer 2021 flight and hotel experiences – indeed, nearly half rated their trips as better than those they’d experienced pre – COVID – 19. Similarly, a Travelsify analysis of over 60 million hotel guest reviews found minimal changes in review scores, and a Transparent analysis of vacation rental property ratings found that current scores are comparable to 2019 levels.

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