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After a year of travel restrictions, cancellations, and closures, we’re on the precipice of returning to some version of our adventurous ways. But how will we know that it’s safe? Whether for business or pleasure, travelers will seek reassurance that providers at every step of the journey — from the ride to the airport, to the economy cabin, to the train downtown, to the conference space, to the italian restaurant, to the hotel — are adhering to federal, state, local, and individual health guidelines.
Hosts, operators, and service providers will be subject to new levels of scrutiny from the wanderlusting public. A recent study by Ohio State University revealed that the vast majority of Americans plan to keep their guard up and continue many of the precautions that became commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. This newfound focus on cleanliness and commitment to personal health will challenge even the most admired brands and form a critical customer experience advantage for others. What, then, can hospitality pros do to foster trust with their customers?
According to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer Global Report, peers sit near the top of the list of the most credible sources when forming opinions about brands (only bested by technical and academic experts). It stands to reason that leveraging the power of your community to create transparent and authentic content is a sound strategy to cultivate one of the most powerful emotions researching patrons may require before booking — peace of mind.
In the age of Instagram, perhaps the only motivator stronger than a desire to avoid contracting an illness is to avoid being shamed for making decisions perceived as risky or inconsiderate by friends and family. As such, pre-trip research and rationalization of risks has taken on greater importance, as has the value around sharing findings. Customer reviews on TripAdvisor, Lyft, Airbnb, Yelp, and Turo listings feature prominent assessments of sanitation and observance of social distancing. Engaging your community to generate authentic firsthand accounts of your approach and give them space to connect with others to get answers to their questions will go a long way to alleviating any concerns and placing you at the top of the list for bookings.
Indeed, before a recent weekend road trip to Moab, Utah, my wife and I chose to skip less expensive hotels with poor comments and booked a bed and breakfast based primarily on their cleanliness rating and reviews confirming that the hosts were requiring all guests to wear masks. We spent more money but felt less of a burden. Upon our return, we wrote a recommendation that featured our appreciation of the hosts’ precautions and care for our personal safety. Having this level of connection to a community of other travelers helped us feel much more comfortable and make the correct decision for our family.
These conversations, positive and negative, are taking place right now on platforms that brands do not own and have little influence over. My recommendation for hospitality and travel businesses is to take control of your own destiny by launching community spaces for customers to gather, share their experiences, and inspire confidence among fellow travelers. In addition to taking a more active role in the narrative surrounding your image as a health-conscious organization, you’ll have the opportunity to cultivate a legion of brand ambassadors that will provide even more of the trusted peer content that moves the needle.
In this almost-post-pandemic world, it’s just good business.
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