Calvin Carter tells Canadian Travel Press that “until major industry-wide innovations are made, travel and tourism will largely be considered ‘unsafe’ by the general public. The survival of the sector is therefore teetering on a knife edge.” However, Carter, founder and CEO of Bottle Rocket, also points out that “industry players now have a rare opportunity to use this time to prepare for the pent-up demand in the post-pandemic world.”

What is Bottle Rocket all about and the kind of work that it does with the travel and tourism industry?

Our ethos at Bottle Rocket is ‘the power of experience.’ We believe experiences are a key component of the holistic brand offering, and when curated perfectly, can increase customer lifetime value and drive business growth.

To solve seemingly impossible challenges and new needs in the travel and tourism industry, our team of rocketeers build customer-centric digital solutions fit for the new age traveller.

Collaborating with the likes of Caesars Entertainment and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, we set out to transform their mobile experiences to not only meet, but surpass, the increasingly high expectations of their guests and reflect their high-quality value offering.

What’s your assessment of where the travel and tourism industry is at right now? What should it be looking at in terms of when to expect a recovery? And how should they be preparing for that recovery?

With air travel not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 at the earliest, all travel operators and hoteliers are understandably nervous. Until major industry-wide innovations are made, travel and tourism will largely be considered ‘unsafe’ by the general public. The survival of the sector is therefore teetering on a knife edge.

We can’t predict what tomorrow will bring – if lockdown and travel restrictions tighten, the recovery of the travel industry will take a further downturn. Industry players now have a rare opportunity to use this time to prepare for the pent-up demand in the post-pandemic world.

With the ultimate goal of rebuilding trust amongst wary travellers, companies should reduce physical touch points in the customer journey, and instead tap into the power of mobile and other digital touchpoints to deliver superior customer experiences.

What do travel and tourism businesses need to know about their customers? Have they been changed by the global pandemic? And, if that’s the case, what do those customers want going forward?

Every industry should be hyper-aware of the needs of today’s Connected Customer and how these needs have radically accelerated due to the global pandemic.

These consumers are interacting with brands almost completely through their preferred digital channels.

In the case of the travel and tourism sector, companies must factor in that customers expect safety protocols to be well-defined and communicated in real-time.
A totally safe airport experience, flight, hotel visit – and everything else in between – is non-negotiable, and customers won’t think twice about cancelling a booking or leaving a negative online review if they feel uneasy or neglected.

Customers will demand a mobile app as a primary, if not exclusive, means to engage with companies – before, during, and long after their experience.

Where does technology or digitization fit into the future of travel companies?

Companies need to understand that the majority of customer experiences in the travel sector are most likely to be best handled through digital.

The days of walking up to a bar in a hotel or airport, and grabbing a chair, are long gone. Instead, customers want to reserve their spot at the bar on an all-purpose app, and have an understanding of the safety precautions prior to arrival.

Everything from room service and ordering towels, to buying sundries and requesting a turn down service, will need to be managed through digital applications that make the customer’s life easier and make them feel their safety is a priority.

A brand’s digital footprint has become their only link to customers before arrival, making the omni-channel, touchless experience is critical to future success.

Can you give CTP’s readers some examples/case studies of how travel and tourism companies are using technology/digitization and the kind of results they are getting from such an approach?

With a completely, new, set of customer needs to fulfil, travel and tourism companies are synchronizing cooperative technologies to create a seamless digital experience.

In the case of Starwood Hotels, a single usable application was needed to facilitate a mobile experience that wasn’t only intuitive, but also loaded with all the features that guests expect.

This rich mobile experience enabled guests to access personally and contextually relevant content on hotel features and amenities, as well as details on upcoming and past stays – leaving no questions unanswered.

The app was also recognized for the first ever creation of keyless hotel check-in – a feature that truly prepared the company for contingencies such as COVID-19. With 1,000% mobile revenue growth, the results speak for themselves.

Trust is a big issue now for all sectors of the travel and tourism industry. Can you talk a bit about how airlines, cruise lines, travel agents, hoteliers, and other sectors of the industry restore trust and consumer confidence in travelling?

At all touch points in the customer’s journey, brands will need to go above and beyond to check in and stay connected with the traveller.

With customer loyalty on the line, travel companies shouldn’t wait until after the experience to contact them for a review or an assessment of their stay.

Why not ask, “Have we provided you the information you need to feel safe?” before the visit?

Why not ask “do you think we are doing all we can to make you feel safe?” during the stay?

It’s this level of attentiveness and care that will instill confidence in an uncertain and evolving travel sector.

What does the future of travel look like? What does the future traveller look like?

The world will travel again, but it won’t be the same.

A growing list of newfound pain points for post-pandemic travellers is fuelling the shift towards touchless travel and a new health and safety regime.

The future traveller must trust that every experience is safe, otherwise they will take their business elsewhere or simply abandon the trip altogether.

From airport curbside through to hotel check-in, travel companies are having to design their roadmap to recovery with consumer confidence at the heart of all operations.

In this new normal, travellers will enjoy frictionless digital experiences and appreciate companies respecting their wishes and preferences.

As industry players increasingly get the green light to welcome back travellers, there should be no reason as to why they cannot buck the COVID-19 trend.

The next couple of years will be critical to the long-term growth of travel companies, therefore they must take advantage of this prime time to innovate – potentially years ahead of what they would’ve achieved in normal circumstances.

This article was published in TravelPress.com