Travel is on the rise and is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. However, the month of April brought with it widespread reports of flight delays and cancellations due to a lack of airline and airport personnel. As travel returns, we are finding that traveler behaviors have evolved in a few key ways:

  • Wellness tourism, eco-tourism, and workstations are enabling people to travel with purpose and stay for longer durations while working remotely from their vacation spot.
  • Premium leisure travelers are on the rise as individuals traveling for personal reasons are now willing to pay for better products and are looking for more personalized recommendations.
  • Self-booking and contactless check-in experiences are increasing, as is last-minute travel.
  • Sanitation protocols and relaxed canceling and rebooking, insurance, and flexibility remain important as COVID concerns continue.
  • On-the-spot assistance is required for any need a traveler may have at any stage of the journey.

The future of travel will be further impacted by three major trends: loyalty, personalization, and new technologies. Let’s take a deeper dive into each.

1. Loyalty

Loyalty programs are still going strong in the travel industry. Earning and redeeming miles against airline upgrades or free flights and hotel stays has become part of the expected experience. Benefits that come with it such as priority boarding, lounges, free luggage check-in, are other perks. According to a Statista report, consumers were expecting the following from a loyalty program in 2021:

  • Multi-brand loyalty (81%)
  • Free giveaways (47%)
  • Cash reward (39%)
  • Personalized offers (38%)
  • Surprise rewards (35%)
  • Special members events only (25%)
  • Mobile checkout (12%)

Loyalty programs are even more important for brands as they help capture meaningful customer data that can then be used to develop relevancy for customers, which in turn will bring more loyalty in a time when it is becoming more difficult to acquire. 

The opportunity to improve loyalty programs is also here. Brands willing to implement loyalty programs must be able to define their value proposition and how that customer value will balance with the financial budget. 

The success or failure of your loyalty will reside in both the value the customer sees/gets in your loyalty program and the value the program provides your business via increased revenue and higher customer lifetime value.

There are several areas travel brands can invest in order to provide the best loyalty program:

Partnerships involving multiple brands and activities. 

This type of program should span across all elements of the travel experience, from the airline or another transportation booking to hotel stays, activities, and transfers. The traveler should not have to wonder whether their number is accounted for to accrue their points.

Flexibility and fewer restrictions

Travelers are tired of limitations on how they can redeem their points. Too often, not all dates are available, and too many restrictions apply. Make it easy for customers to gift the points or have a friend or family member use the redemption. Give trips booked with points the same rules for cancellation and rebooking; too often, extra charges are applied to trips booked with points, and sometimes these are very high.

Immediately visible benefits. 

We live in an age of instant gratification. For example, you could offer a reduction on a subsequent trip for higher-tier travelers, instead of requiring them to wait to get a minimum of 50,000 points to get a single benefit or accrue 10 nights before having the 11th free. If your customer wants to spend 1,000 points to get a $20 saving, let them. 

2. Personalization

Travelers want travel websites to present them with destinations, packages, or offers that correspond to their needs. They do not want to see their homepage filled with irrelevant content that is not of interest to them. Systems can now learn these preferences, and artificial intelligence is becoming more robust. Machine learning is enabling algorithms to provide travelers with better relevancy and more accurate offers.

Despite these advances, finding and organizing a trip is not an easy task and takes a lot of time and energy. The Internet is an ocean of information and travelers have so many options that they do not always know where to start – especially in foreign countries, where things can be different. The number of elements to organize is also high: airline, hotel, car rental, visits, activities, transportation to hotel… and all this needs to fit in a given budget for the destination in question.

Looking at the time and energy required, travel agents are finding a smart new positioning. They are the new ‘’personal shoppers’’ of leisure:

  • They consider the budget and destination, perform research, and offer options.
  • They inform the customer of all rules and steps to take before the trip as there are more requirements due to COVID-19.
  • They bundle everything up in preparation, making it easy to access and understand.
  • They are available during the trip to book unanticipated elements (eg.: finding a rental car if the traveler did not want one initially but realized they need one), which provides the traveler flexibility even after the trip has begun.
  • They follow up after the trip to make sure everything was as expected and do all of this with a personal touch.

The notion of personalization goes beyond the products; it now corresponds to the service being delivered, as well. Travelers want a no-hassle experience. But travel sites still have a long way to go before they can offer a no-hassle experience to travelers. In order to provide better-personalized products and services, technology needs to become more accurate in the results proposed to the travelers. This is why ‘’personal shoppers’’ make sense in this field, especially as technology has yet to perfectly personalize experiences and content on its own.

Areas of investment to support an improved travel experience:

  • Accuracy of recommendations and search results.
  • Search technology that is inclusive of all services (too often, sites require travelers to review and book each element separately).
  • Human assistance 24/7 for advice, COVID-19 questions, places to visit, last-minute reservations, etc.

3. New Technologies 

Apps are helping travelers complete their pre-boarding requirements and improve the overall experience while traveling. American Airlines is providing a digital health passport and digital identity with the Verifly app, for example. Travelers can have vaccine and testing documents verified in advance, preventing them from showing multiple documents at check-in.

Some airports have introduced AR to help travelers navigate in the airport and find gates and services more easily, such as the Gatwick Airport in the UK. 

Food delivery is available with apps like AtYourGate, where a robot will bring your order directly to your departing gate. We all know how hard it can be sometimes to grab a coffee before boarding. Lines are long and time is tight.  

Robots are also being used as smart suitcases, or in hotels to carry luggage, as hotel concierges, for security, and also for sanitation services. In hotels, the Internet of Things (IoT) is giving the traveler control over the room temperature, atmosphere, light, television, and other connected devices – often from one controller.

And while visiting a place, apps like GPSMyCity are being used as interactive tour guides. Innovative app makers are even introducing AR to make the experience more immersive and enjoyable.

Virtual Travels

While augmented reality complements the in-person experience, virtual reality is bringing entire destinations and experiences closer to home. More experiences are now available and brands like Oculus are offering Virtual Vacations.

New remote tours are also coming to life, where tour guides across the globe can give a virtual personal tour of a place of choice. As the guide walks in the city with the person in real-time, the virtual traveler can ask them to look at something or zoom in on something else; it is the ‘’zoom conference’’ of travel.

Tourism offices are offering 360° tours, as well, to help visitors prepare for their trip and for countries to help sell better their destination.

All of these new technologies are making travel easier and more convenient. They also open the door for travelers to virtually explore faraway places they may otherwise have been intimidated to visit, helping them make the decision to go ahead and book.

Key Takeaways 

The pandemic has certainly impacted the travel industry, perhaps more than any other. Now that businesses are recovering from the shutdowns, this new era is pushing brands to reinvent and challenge themselves with enhanced offerings that offer greater value and better meet the needs of the new travel consumer. 

Even as we return to “normal,” travel remains a special experience for the consumer. Business travel has become more stressful than before, and brands can make a real impression by making passengers’ lives as easy as possible. And if it is for vacation, people want to decompress more than ever; they want to enjoy their time and not worry about a thing. 

By providing valuable loyalty programs, personalization, and smooth tech experiences, brands can exceed their customers’ expectations and provide the joyful, stress-free adventures that customers rave about – and book again.