4 ways travel businesses are meeting new customer demands post Covid-19

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From sports and dining to events and attractions, businesses are enthusiastically welcoming back guests with improved service models and future-forward contactless technologies, especially as it relates to travel. As operators across the travel industry adjust to the ‘next’ normal and continue to refine their operations to maximize growth, they’re prioritizing customer experiences based on the new demands that have recently emerged. In fact, customer behavior — from preferences to spending habits — has significantly shifted post Covid-19, and in order to thrive, businesses should provide innovative solutions that will help meet customer demands and exceed expectations. 

Here are 4 ways businesses can successfully meet new customer demands and expectations post Covid-19.

  1. Travel businesses are adopting mobile ordering.

Mobile ordering.

Contactless payment through cloud technology is faster, easier and safer than traditional Windows-based platforms, and customers now expect “touch-free” ordering, such as ‘tap to pay’ cards and mobile wallets — even post Covid-19

But while contactless technology has become an industry standard, mobile ordering is quickly rising as an essential payment solution. Major brands like Disney and Starbucks have adopted mobile ordering because it’s safe and convenient for both guests and staff, it simplifies operations, and it gives customers the power to feel part of the transaction.

With mobile ordering, customers can view menus, order and pay directly with their mobile phones via QR codes, a technology that’s been around for decades but came back with a vengeance this past year, especially in restaurants, stadiums, theme parks and education campuses. This type of technology is critical for businesses, especially in food and beverage, since customers are known to leave a restaurant if the technology isn’t modern enough.

While mobile ordering is incredibly beneficial for guests, it’s also a boon for businesses. They can experience a significant revenue increase just by offering mobile ordering to their customers. In fact, mobile order transactions are 20% higher than in-restaurant purchases, according to Fast Casual, since customers are more willing to purchase add-ons, like fries or dessert, thus increasing the order size.

Not only do businesses experience financial gain, mobile ordering via QR codes is proven to save businesses a considerable amount of money, which helps them allocate their budget to other areas of need. 

So, how do businesses save money with mobile ordering? 

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First, mobile ordering requires less waitstaff to take orders, meaning businesses can save on payroll. Adopting mobile ordering also helps restaurateurs address the current labor shortage without sacrificing the customer experience and service flow. 

Secondly, digital menus are incredibly cost effective. It saved one restaurateur $3,000 a year in printing fees, as well money that would have been spent toward hiring a graphic designer to create a menu design, according to Open Table. Digital menus are also faster and easier to update.

Cafe love.

Lastly, a mobile-first/mobile-only approach for operators creates an opportunity to increase both first-party and third-party data capture, according to The Spoon, so businesses can prioritize mobile in order to personalize offers, segment customers and influence behavior.

2. Businesses are providing more outdoor spaces to accommodate sun-loving guests.

AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea
AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea

There’s no doubt about it: Consumers want to be outside. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, more urban places are adding outdoor performance spaces and dining options to lure back visitors because, quite simply, they prefer it. Diners want outdoor seating at restaurants, music lovers want to be at outdoor festivals, and night owls prefer a nightcap under a starry sky. 

Sham Shui Hong Kong
Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. Photo: Tatum Ancheta

The “outdoor” revolution goes beyond traditional places. People now want to stay in hotels and vacation rentals that have outdoor spaces — and even sleep in outdoor spaces, like sleeping porches, according to The New York Times. Furthermore, landlords and designers are adding more outdoor spaces to office buildings so employees can work outside, according to Fast Company. 

Finland biking
Photo: Business Finland.

Needless to say, in a post-pandemic world, the preference to open spaces is not a trend; it’s becoming a sweeping standard for people across the country. They expect it, and brands are delivering.

Businesses who want to satisfy their customers will enhance their operations to include an outdoor space, especially restaurants. Outdoor dining, such as extended patios, have proven to provide a new channel of income for restaurateurs, and it also increases capacity for diners (less waiting time for a table makes for a happier customer). Outdoor spaces are incredibly profitable. According to Restaurant Business, a $200,000 investment in a restaurant’s outdoor space increased overall sales by $500,000.

Thompson San Antonio
Thompson San Antonio

While the pandemic enabled restaurants to open outdoor dining as a temporary solution, many cities have now made outdoor dining on sidewalks and streets permanent. For instance, due to the popularity for both diners and operators, Cincinnati made outdoor dining permanent for restaurants this past May, and Los Angeles City Council is in the process of making outdoor dining permanent.   

At the end of the day, customers unarguably want to be outside. Not only is it healthier to be outdoors in fresh air, it’s safer, such as open-air stadiums in sports, and businesses should consider providing an open space that can accommodate mobile ordering and contactless payment technologies to streamline the guest experience. It’s perhaps the most popular way travel businesses are meeting customer demands.

3. Offering loyalty programs

Shangri-La Covid coverage
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

In this story on 5 payment trends to expect in 2021, nearly half of Americans (48%) would dine at a restaurant more often if it offered a brand loyalty program (versus 14% no and 32% maybe), according to a recent survey conducted on 2,081 customers. The most important factor for Americans to join a brand loyalty program? Discounts and special offers for future visits (54%); free food (27.5%); reaching a certain tier in a program (10%) and getting news and updates (5%). 

Delta Sky Priority LaGuardia Airport
Delta Sky Priority LaGuardia Airport

Last year, major quick-service restaurants—including Taco Bell and Moe’s—developed loyalty programs, and more brands have followed suit in 2021 including McDonald’s with its much anticipated MyMcDonald’s Rewards debuting July 8. Loyalty programs have enormous benefits. Customers can earn and redeem points for discounts and incentives, but brands also have an advantage. They can personalize guest experiences and pull vital analytics and data to have a better understanding of their customers. For instance, Nike’s new app not only increased sales, it was able to gather data on its customers spending habits and purchasing information, according to Retail Dive.

Shangri-La Hotels
Shangri-La Hotels

Businesses can expect to see rising redemption activities in 2021, especially for hedonic rewards, according to The Wise Marketer. The pandemic was a motivator for the growth and evolution of loyalty programs, and businesses increased focus on customer value segmentation enabled by new technologies, like mobile ordering. 

By embedding food, beverage, and retail ordering inside a branded, native mobile app, businesses can create a loyalty program by using an Open API, allowing 3rd party developers and partners to seamlessly integrate. 

4. Providing meaningful brand experiences. 

Blantyre hiking trail
Blantyre hiking trail

At NRF’s recent Retail Converge, business leaders revealed that a brand’s new responsibility post Covid-19 is providing meaningful experiences. In fact, the future of retail is no longer about the transaction, but about entertainment and experience to ensure customers keep coming back. Brands like Best Buy, CVS, UPS and Nordstrom Rack participated in the summit, offering the main takeaway that brands need to define who they are. 

The sentiment isn’t just for retail. Brands across sports, restaurants, education and live events are also offering meaningful experiences that give visitors a reason to remember them. 

Aland Tent Finland
Aland tent. Photo: Rebecka_Eriksson

For instance, FC Cincinnati debuted a unique LED-lighting system at West End Stadium with animation customized based on cultural activities and civic holidays, which gave its fans a true localized experience.

Ultimately, businesses need to connect with the consumer on a more meaningful level post Covid-19. Memorable brand experiences not only help businesses stand out from competitors, they show that businesses are going above and beyond for their customers.

More stories:

3 sustainable travel trends for 2021, according to Kind Traveler

This couple in their 20s quit their job to travel the world on a sailboat

6 flaws in business class that airlines hope you don’t notice

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