Now more than ever, we must keep the customer satisfied

Julie Kyse serves as vice president of global air partnerships for Expedia Group. In this role, she leads the team responsible for Expedia Group’s relationships with airline partners across the world.

Consumer behavior continually evolves, but the volatility we’ve experienced over the past few years has brought change into even sharper focus. All industries have had to adapt and re-examine how they meet new consumer needs, and in this time of transformative change, the travel industry is front and center.

We recently released the Expedia 2023 Air Travel Hacks Report, created in partnership with ARC. It leverages insights from ARC’s global database to offer tips to save time and money. Hacks include the best day of the week to book a flight at the lowest price, how to minimize the risk of being impacted by delays and cancellations and tools for finding the best fares — information travel advisors can access to help their clients.

Money-related issues continue to be important to consumers. Our Expedia Group Traveler Value Index 2023, based on surveys of 11,000 people across 11 markets, debuted this month and revealed strong preferences for flexible rates and fares that can be changed without a fee. Around half of consumers say they would never book nonrefundable lodging (47%) or transportation (51%) domestically, even if it was discounted. Even more would refuse nonrefundable lodging (57%) and transportation (59%) when traveling internationally.

Many airlines seized the opportunity posed by the turbulence of the past few years to do things differently to increase customer satisfaction, like introducing flexible itineraries to enhance loyalty and implementing better systems and processes around fees, cancellation policies and refunds.

But while the cost of travel plays a part in cementing travelers’ decisions, having a positive experience increased in importance during the pandemic and, more than ever, impacts repeat business for an airline, hotel, cruise line, car rental company, travel agency or OTA.

In this respect, one consumer preference that came up time and again was the desire for clear communication. Any agency with a website or mobile app needs to be able to communicate available options that will reassure travelers that they’re making the right decisions. For example, at Expedia Group, we introduced new features this year that include price tracking recommendations and a fintech product (Price Drop Protection) to instill confidence and clarity as customers make booking decisions. This helps to drive better conversion rates while also delivering a better overall experience for the travelers themselves.

Additionally, sharing our data and insights helps partners we work with to better understand evolving trends.

Another way we’ve found to be effective in raising satisfaction is through attribute-based shopping, or smart shopping as we call it, by improving self-selection and customization for flight and hotel options. To increase clarity and structure for flights, we have moved seat and baggage selections higher up in options. Consequently, in a recent test on our mobile app, seat selection increased by 94%. This is a win-win: travelers are more involved in making choices earlier in the booking journey, with more transparency, and travel partners benefit from stronger conversions. Smart shopping is currently live for lodging and will be rolled out to flights soon.

The last few years have been volatile for the airline industry, and today the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite. As both business and leisure travelers return to the skies, airlines have sometimes struggled to meet the returning levels of demand. To ensure this demand continues and to secure repeat customers, improving and developing the traveler experience for a post-pandemic world from the beginning to the end of the holiday process must be a focus of all parties involved.

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