Shaping the Future of the Travel Industry: A Conversation with Emily Weiss

Emily WeissEmily Weiss, global travel industry sector lead for Accenture, recently shared with Adrienne Weil, vice president of strategic partnerships and business development for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), key trends that Accenture sees shaping the future of the travel industry in the coming months and what actions hospitality companies should take to adapt to the post-COVID world.

In the post-pandemic world, what are the key trends that you are seeing in the industry?

When I speak with people across the industry, there are four things that come up all the time.

First is the fact that the initial recovery is going to be characterized by leisure travel. Our research shows that 46 percent of consumers will either not travel at all for work or reduce their business travel by half following the pandemic. Everyone in this industry is expecting the business market and the international market to return but at a much slower pace. That’s just a fact we all have to deal with until we get much more clarity on vaccine roll-out, quarantines, and so on.

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The second is while there’s no doubt there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there, there’s still a lot of work to do to capture it. And in hospitality, for example, people are thinking hard about reimagining the whole experience – things like how meetings and events now work and what new business travel needs might exist when people are maybe working one or two days a week in the office. The future of business travel is very tied to the future of work, which is still unclear.

Building on that, we’re also seeing the rise of “digital nomads” – the people who now work from anywhere and everywhere. What new services might they want and need from hospitality companies? And finally, the concept of “touchless everything.” This is about making sure there’s a seamless end-to-end experience that is COVID-secure and inspires real trust and confidence in travelers. Getting that right is clearly an essential part of the travel rebound.

What does the new post-pandemic traveler look like? How have traveler expectations changed due to the pandemic?

What’s really interesting is that while post-pandemic travel is all about leisure, it’s not the same kind of leisure we saw beforehand. Accenture has been tracking consumer sentiment throughout the last year, and we’ve seen just how fundamentally the experience of the pandemic has changed not only behavior but also values and priorities.

A lot of this is about health and safety – no great surprise there! Clearly, travelers want to be reassured that hotels, holiday rentals, airplanes, taxis, etc., are all safe places to be. But there’s a broader aspect, too, in that people are looking for a more holistic approach to their overall wellness when they travel – access to fitness facilities, minimal stress, mental wellbeing, and so on.

We’re also seeing much more focus on the idea of “local” shopping and traveling choices (with obvious implications for both international and domestic travel). Plus, there’s a renewed emphasis on “doing good” and a desire to travel in more sustainable and ethical ways – and there’s a lot of scope for travel companies to help people make the right choices here.

How are travel companies responding to those new traveler expectations?

Right now, most of the attention is on how to adapt to a leisure-dominated market. The fact is, for many travel companies, this was always a secondary focus in the past. And getting leisure right means doing a lot of things differently – everything from customer experience designs to marketing and sales, to customized content, or to loyalty programs. Widening the focus to both the “pre-travel” and “post-travel” phases of the customer journey also becomes much more important. Overall, a degree of creative pragmatism is needed here – the ability to think innovatively and respond quickly to events that may be outside of your direct control, while keeping a strategic focus on the future.

What actions should hospitality companies take to adapt to the post-COVID world?

This is something I was discussing on a recent Accenture Travel podcast, and I’d say there are three key things to think about. One, continuing to emphasize cleanliness and offering contactless journeys across the whole end-to-end customer experience because the need for extra health and safety isn’t going away. Two, really tailoring your messaging to local tastes and cultures and delivering a truly seamless and personalized experience is so important for differentiating the brand in the leisure market. And three, thinking creatively about meeting new customer needs, whether that’s new services for digital nomads or responding to the call for more sustainable, ethical, and low-carbon travel.

In fact, lots of these actions are actually technology actions and data actions. To deliver seamless, personalized, omnichannel, contactless experiences, you need to be integrating your platforms in the cloud and you need to be really good at linking up your data. Cloud services can also help cut costs (all the more important when business revenues are still recovering) by automating the mundane but essential parts of what travel companies do, freeing up people to focus on more creative and customer-focused work. We’re talking a lot about this concept of compressed transformation. Simultaneously transforming multiple parts of your business in harmony rather than embarking on longer-term step-by-step programs. This is a different way of working and requires not just new technology but also new ways of working while addressing cost pressures.

It’s no secret the industry has been behind the curve on cloud adoption until now. And fixing that should absolutely be top of the list of priorities – for the whole business, not just IT – in the post-COVID world.

As the Global Travel Industry Sector Lead for Accenture, Emily Weiss is responsible for driving the growth of Accenture’s Travel business across hospitality, aviation, and travel services through the delivery of transformational industry solutions.

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Adrienne Weil is vice president of strategic partnerships and business development at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). Weil is responsible for the design and implementation of a comprehensive growth strategy to stimulate incremental growth in AHLA’s premier partner program.