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3 Cutting-Edge Retention Strategies in the Travel Industry

Considering the fact that millennials are much more interested in buying experiences than things, travel ranks high on the list of their coveted industries. And since consumers have a variety of options when it comes to travel, companies are stepping up their tactics to retain them

Lauren Dowdle
August 17 2017

The travel industry might be getting a bad reputation because of some recent events (I’m talking to you, United Airlines). But for every PR nightmare, there are dozens of other examples of companies that are making travel easier and a bit more enjoyable for their customers, important components of retention.

And the ones who are especially savvy with customer retention are ensuring their practices vie to the younger audience. (Air France is even launching an airline geared toward those born after 1980.)

Millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States — and 78 percent of them say they’d rather spend their money on experiences, not things. So, it’s no surprise the travel industry has seen a spike in growth the past few years.

To keep consumers of all ages happy and coming back for more, many companies in the travel industry are stepping up their game. Check out some innovative ways these brands are boosting their customer retention rates and efforts.

Provide Instant Communication

There’s no getting away from the fact that we live in an instant society. We’re sending texts instead of emails and choosing same-day delivery from Amazon. It’s all about spending less time waiting and more time enjoying whatever we’re after.

When you combine that type of instant response with customer service, you’ve got a winning retention tool. And that’s where travel bots come into play. Similar to other A.I. platforms, these bots are gaining ground in the travel industry.

These automated tools can answer customer questions — like helping them with booking — straight from a website or through messenger platforms. That gives consumers the automatic response they crave, along with giving them the information or assistance they need.

Example No. 1: Expedia revealed its travel bot in 2016 that allows customers to book a hotel through Facebook Messenger. Users can tell the bot where and when they want to stay somewhere, and the bot will follow up with questions to help narrow down the search. From there, they can choose from a variety of hotels the bot gives them. Basically, it’s like having a personal customer service assistant literally in the palm of your hand.

Ease Their Minds

Traveling should be a relaxing experience — or at the least, not cause a full-blown panic attack. Anytime companies can make their customers’ experiences easier and less stressful is going to help boost their retention.

And in an industry where so much can go wrong (delayed flights, overbooking, etc.), travel companies need to look for ways to show their customers they care by reducing hassles and headaches.

Example No. 2: Ask travelers what their biggest fears are, and you’re sure to hear “lost baggage” as a response. While the barcode system has helped reduce the amount of lost checked bags, it’s not a foolproof method. That’s why McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas decided to go above and beyond customer expectations.

They added radio chips to their bag-checking and sorting system. Their chips have had a 99.5 percent accuracy and are embedded into the paper tags the airport uses. Not only does that help ensure the bags get to where they’re going, but it also speeds up how quickly they move through the system.

Giving travelers that piece of mind about their luggage, while also making the process speedier, is going to improve their overall experience and make them want to continue being a loyal customer.

Give Back to Customers

You can’t buy happiness, or loyalty for that matter — at least in the long run. As it turns out, it really is the thought that counts, even if you are giving your customers a gift of sorts.

But what you can do is show you care about the customer, proving they aren’t just a number (or source of revenue) — and that goes a long way with retention and loyalty. Just make sure you know what loyalty actually means to customers first.

Most likely, you’ve got the wrong idea about customer loyalty programs. They aren’t meant to show how loyal your customers are to you: They should show your customers you’re loyal to them, at least that’s the view of 73 percent of consumers.

Once you learn that distinction, you can make some serious headway with your retention efforts.

There are several in the travel industry that show they appreciate their customers with gifts or rebates. Southwest mails out drink vouchers to its frequent flyers, and Hotel.com gives its customers a free night after they book 10.

But to make it on our cutting-edge list, one company went beyond the typical loyalty program to show its customers how much they really mean to them.

Example No. 3: You’ve probably already heard of this viral marketing effort, which just shows how well it works with consumers, considering it has nearly 50 million views on YouTube. Airline company WestJet surprised its flyers with gifts from their Christmas lists — showing they listen, care and will go out of their way to make their customers happy. That all goes back to showing customers the brand is loyal to them.

Anytime a company can take a personalized approach to exceed their customer’s expectations is a win. And when you can also market what you’ve done for your customers, that helps increase brand awareness as well.

Get in the Driver’s Seat

You’re behind the wheel when it comes to your customer retention rates. And no, it doesn’t take some over-the-top Christmas gift giveaway to keep customers coming back again and again.

What you need is a retention plan that focuses on providing a personalized approach to what your customers want and need — all while showing you care and you’re loyal to them. With more options and companies for customers to choose from, companies have got to find ways to stand out and retain their customers.

That much is true no matter what industry you’re in.

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Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing — plus being interviewed by Jay Leno and winning a backhoe-operating contest. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her spoiling her four furry babies and exploring the city with her husband.

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