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Behavioral Science

Why the Travel Industry Must Embrace New Habit Formation

Posted On  May 20, 2021
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At the height of the pandemic, consumers’ experiences with travel planning were pretty miserable. With stay-at-home orders grounding most flights, travelers scrambled to cancel or reschedule planned trips and often encountered long waits on help lines that ended with “credits” rather than the return of their much-needed cash.

While this may have led to a shift in loyalties, it didn’t turn consumers off of travel forever. The day the Pfizer vaccine was announced in November, the travel site Kayak.com saw a 27% increase in flight search traffic.

As American state and local governments get closer to full reopening, businesses are bracing for the next (and final?) round of COVID-induced change. Understanding which aspects of life have become deeply ingrained in our routines, and which aspects will be unceremoniously tossed as soon as possible, presents an opportunity to reignite your base, bring in new consumers, and take your brand to the next level.

Build your customer experience around emerging needs

Consumers aren’t just picking up their 2019 travel plans where they left off. They’re looking to fulfill their suppressed need for exploration.

But not all consumers will address this need in the same way. Some will want to travel without being encumbered by the restrictions they’ve lived under since March of 2020. Others who are still nervous about COVID variants will want to see assurances that their need for safety and security will be met.

Travel planning sites can use these shifts in attitudes to lure new users. They can provide the resources travelers need to plan trips in this new reality, such as offering flexibility and transparency in their policies and pricing.

Changes like these can help them accommodate both types of travelers. For consumers who want to be spontaneous again, providing flexibility and transparency will help them make decisions quickly. For consumers who want to be more cautious, this will offset concerns about being locked into dates as public health and safety needs evolve.

Brands must understand which features are dealmakers and deal-breakers, and whether these will continue to shift as consumers engage with their category.

Take advantage of a longer path to purchase

In many categories, consumers are planning their purchases more carefully. Whether they’re doing this for emotional reasons tied to health and safety or for more deliberate reasons tied to financial concerns, this can lead to a longer path to purchase.  In turn, that longer path to purchase offers more opportunities for brands to connect with consumers.

Brands can communicate that they understand the complexity of consumers’ feelings and needs and can provide convenience and clarity at each step on the journey. Travel planning sites can acknowledge, for instance, that they understand the rental car shortage that’s currently impacting US travelers and even suggest workarounds or alternatives in some instances.

As people stick closer to home and away from crowds, travelers’ preferred destinations continue to evolve as regulations change. To address these changes, Google is helping consumers with new features to plan road trips in Maps and set alerts when preferred travel destinations lift restrictions.

Be ready to adapt to more changes in consumer behavior

The “new normal” isn’t just the old normal with a mask on. It’s an attempt to return to a version of our old routines with the attitudes and beliefs we adopted during the pandemic.

Whether it’s searching for restaurants that have outdoor seating or food that supports your immune system for that all-important vaccine, the motivations behind consumer decisions have evolved. The brands that best anticipate those needs will win repeat business and help build strong post-pandemic habits.

To learn more about how the science of habit formation can help inform post-pandemic strategies in a wide range of industries, check out our Habit Illumination approach covered in our ebook, Why Habits Research Should Guide Your Brand Strategy.

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