Thanks to travel and tourism companies embracing the festive spirit and offering their own Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Travel Tuesday deals, many consumers are already thinking ahead to the summer and their 2019 family vacation.
But the deals are just one part of the story; changing attitudes to materialism is the other as the U.S. Department for Commerce data shows. Over the past decade there has been a marked increase in spending on experiences rather than possessions and the trend is particularly acute among the 18-to-37-year-old millennial generation.
Expedia research shows that U.S. teens would rather receive a vacation than a physical holiday gift, while Allianz’s annual U.S. vacation trends report shows that the amount consumers are spending on their summer vacations has increased by $20 billion over the past 10 years. In 2018, American families spent over $100 billion on their summer vacations and the upwards trend is expected to continue in 2019.
Yet even with the travel and tourism industry becoming a Black Friday fixture, the same Allianz study shows that over half of Americans (51 percent) haven’t taken a vacation over the past 12 months and for 38 percent it’s been two years since they hit the road or boarded a flight for a week-long break.
Is that because vacations aren’t seen as important, or is it because companies have lost sight of who their customers are and what they need to complete the customer journey?
“As the vacation experience becomes more about personalization and building reservation breaks, consumers are spending more time searching for inspiration and conducting research before arriving at the consideration stage,” begins Joe Reynolds, VP Global Business Development at Sitel Group. “And when they do start along the sales funnel, it is with questions and concerns that need addressing.”
This is why an omnichannel approach is crucial for travel and tourism companies that want to guide customers through the purchase process with the least amount of friction.
“Omnichannel doesn’t mean focusing on digital,” Reynolds says. “It means focusing on where your customers are and ensuring that whether they’re using live chat, social messaging or the phone, the experience is the same, the access to information is consistent and your view of the customer is clear.”
The path to purchase for a Club Med vacation is 96 days and on average features 11 digital and physical touch points. This brand adopted an omnichannel approach to ensure more potential customers completed the path to purchase, rather than to accelerate the process.
By integrating live chat into its website, agents are able to respond immediately to questions potential customers have at the consideration stage. As the journey progresses, customers can also use social channels, call the contact center or visit one of the firm’s numerous physical branches where they can use a VR headset to take a virtual tour of the resort. But whatever the touch point, the experience is seamless.
One very innovative step the company has taken is to build a customer community called Club Makers where people can share their experiences with the brand, offer advice to others and even vote on ideas for new types of vacation and resort locations.
Thanks to the Tripadvisor effect, consumers now actively search out reviews when planning their vacation. The latest Morning Consult study into American Travel Trends show that 60 percent of men and 72 percent of women check reviews of destinations before booking and that when choosing a hotel, online reviews carry more weight than amenities in the decision-making process.
For this reason, Club Med actively encourages potential customers to chat with community members and allow the community to answer questions that an agent would otherwise handle – not to reduce traffic to contact centers, but to increase trust and authenticity.
“When organized properly, an online community can deliver a host of measurable business benefits,” Reynolds points out. “They’re a forum for customer feedback, a way of recognizing and rewarding your brand’s biggest fans, a self-service content generation hub and even an effective marketing tool.”
The average U.S. family vacation costs $1,500 and can take up to six months of planning and consideration. Therefore, a dazzling deal without the customer service to support it often won’t be enough to get a consumer to complete the path to purchase.
For over 30 years Sitel Group has helped travel and tourism companies build deeper connections with their customers through implementing and optimizing ominchannel strategies, customer journey mapping, building and managing online communities and leveraging software to deliver a single view of the customer across the organization.