Comment: Trust really matters

Focus on the things that make customers happy, says Travelport’s chief marketing officer Jen Catto

Trust takes a long time to build and can be broken in an instant.

For anyone in marketing and sales, it’s understood that the most effective way to sell is by making compelling promises that the business then keeps.

Selling, in other words, involves the constant maintenance of trust with your buyers.

It will come as no surprise that trust has taken a huge hit this year and at Travelport we were curious to know how travellers feel about our industry.

We partnered with Edelman, a global authority on trust in business, and commissioned a study of 11,000 travellers across 10 countries – the UK, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, the US, Canada, India, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.

Our Trust in Travel research explores how travelers perceive suppliers and agencies after the pandemic, as well as how they perceive the travel retail experience overall. First and foremost, let’s confirm that trust really matters.

  • 46% of respondents say they prioritize trust over all other factors when it comes to selecting a travel provider.
  • 49% say that when a supplier or agency is trusted they will consider purchasing additional items.
  • 42% will consider upgrading their package over and above what they were already prepared to spend.

Secondly, it became clear that many different types of businesses within the travel industry have caused trust issues.

Three out of four respondents report having had their trust broken at least once by a travel supplier, such as an airline, hotel, or rental car company. And travel agencies are only slightly better, with seven in ten travellers saying they’ve had their trust broken by an agency.

Travellers did give the industry, as a whole, pretty high marks for dealing with Covid – 56% of travellers in our study said the travel industry has done well in implementing Covid-19 health and safety measures. Going forward, however, 50% said they would like more reassurance on how robustly social distancing is being enforced.

Major international hotel chains (57%) have earned the most trust among travelers compared to other travel suppliers, including major international and regional airlines (>50%), as well as low-cost carriers (40%).

Considering the very different experiences the hospitality industry and the transport industry provide – with the hospitality world keeping customer experience top of mind while transport can sometimes feel like a commodity – it’s very difficult to feel connected to a procedure and regulation-driven commodity.

The good news is that, considering the pent-up demand for travel, our industry has the rare opportunity to have a reset how people perceive our businesses.

While some airlines have clearly taken a more guest-forward approach, for example, it’s important for the industry that everyone prioritises restoring trust and building relationships with travellers.

When respondents were asked what the most important factors were in establishing trust with a travel company, the top factor mentioned was ‘no hidden costs’.

Compared to other factors, ‘no hidden costs’ was ranked 16 percentage points higher in importance than an airline’s long-term safety record. Unfortunately, 60% of travellers also said that, as an industry, we’re underperforming in this area.

Transparency is built into modern retailing. If you think about how people shop online, customers expect transparency and personalisation from online retailers.

Amazon and its pricing and recommendations, Alibaba, Blue Apron and Rent the Runway – they have clear cost structures, and the product feels very much intended for you.

The ‘no hidden fees’ mandate from customers applies equally to hotels and agencies as it does to airlines. When you select a flight listed with a certain cost, you shouldn’t then find out that bringing a bag is extra. Oh, and what’s that daily resort fee you didn’t tell me about before I checked in?

Today’s customers also expect an experience to be what they want, not necessarily what a brand or a company wants them to want. In fact, consumers trust information from brands and companies lessthan alternative sources of information.

  • 58% of respondents say they trust reviews shared from other consumers as well as family and friends (or ‘word-of-mouth’) as sources of information when planning a trip.
  • 49% say they trust tourist boards and tourist information offices as sources for travel information.
  • 45% of respondents say they trust the information coming from travel companies when planning a trip.

When a traveller has a negative experience, they talk about it. Nine out of ten do, according to our research – and four out of ten will post about it online. So, disappointing trust goes beyond the individual. It actually creates negative media value for a brand and wasting some portion of a marketing budget correcting that situation.

Maintaining trust with transparency means brands can either spend less or, at the very least, their marketing spend will be more effective. We may think of trust as rational, but emotion is often at the core of a successful sale.

If the industry focuses on the things that make travellers happy, the things that stimulate trust rather than sacrifice it, then a fruitful future awaits us all.

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