There are a lot of unknowns when we, the general public and businesses alike, face force majeure events. Be it a virus (as is happening right now with the COVID-19 outbreak), earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions (remember Eyjafjallajökull?) – even heightened political tensions/instability in a specific region.

The travel industry is often at the frontline when such events happen and has to react quickly, dealing with stranded passengers, flights being cancelled and even airlines ceasing to trade. Their websites are often hit with increased traffic as customers understandably scramble to find the latest information and how their existing holiday or travel plans are affected.

On top of it all, the industry also often needs to cope with the financial strain of a drop in demand for travel caused by such events, as potential customers hold off on booking their trips or journeys until the picture becomes clearer.

While the situation may seem bleak when in the middle of such events, it is good to focus on what the you can control and changes you can adopt if you are in the travel industry. This is when your optimisation programme remains one of your strongest allies.

In this blog we have pulled together just a few ideas about how using an optimisation platform such as Webtrends Optimize can help the travel industry keep things on track from a commercial perspective, as well as providing the very best service and experience for your customers, during such difficult times.

1. Inform customers and give them a positive experience

These situations usually change very quickly. For example, with Coronavirus, a few weeks ago it was just travel to China that was suspended, and now it’s parts of Europe and the US – tomorrow who knows?

Webtrends Optimize allows you to display relevant information to the visitors who need to see it very quickly without relying on your IT team to make changes.

It can be as simple as setting up several versions of a banner or Hello bar and tuning it to display to the relevant visitor segments who need to see the information. For example, if you have various pieces of information that are specific to existing customers on holiday in certain countries or regions you can recognise where they are accessing your site from and display the appropriate message. This can help build trust that you are looking out for your customers whilst they are away.

Health advice, flight cancellations, advice to passengers who are looking to contact customer services are just a few more examples. You can also target messages to the relevant demographics amongst your visitors or those displaying certain behaviour on your website to anticipate what they are trying to find.

2. Respond to cancellations and delays

Some customers will want to cancel their trips and holidays when a force majeure event occurs, and it becomes a tough ask to convince them not to. However, it does not mean you cannot retain them as customers.

With Webtrends Optimize you can listen to customer behaviour and display targeted messages about cancellation policies. As part of the retention policy you may want to promote a grace period when visitors can pre-book and change their bookings if needed or offer customers the ability to change their current booking for a later date when there is less risk/concern for them.

Information and transparency is generally the key in these circumstances too – even when smaller or less widespread events occur. Yes it’s frustrating when a train/plane/transfer is cancelled or delayed, but for the customer, not knowing what is happening, or what their options are only exacerbates the frustration for them.

I know it can be difficult at times but being honest and open with the customer builds that bond of trust. And with Webtrends Optimize you can be flexible and update your messaging frequently and easily to better facilitate that.

3. Support visitors still looking to book

Hello bars and exit intent banners can also be useful to give confidence to customers still looking to book trips during such times. By reacting to the specific event unfolding and informing your visitors of the relevant information available you can help reassure them and lessen the risk of booking at this time.

For example, if booking by credit card, or purchasing specific insurance means they would be covered in the event of the trip being cancelled, or you’re an airline that has a free re-booking policy, then showcasing this front and centre can be very compelling. Similarly, for hotels where there is free cancellation available, promoting these filters allows the customer to feel there is less/no risk in booking now.

When some countries have to close their doors temporarily, there may be opportunities to promote other destinations with similar features, cultures, experiences.

You can and should test different promotions, copy and designs over a short period to understand what resonated with the customers at this particular time. Some travellers may be particularly sensitive to risk while others may look for a good deal at this time and fine tuning your messaging can make a difference between a customer booking or walking away.

Our product recommendations and social proof engines which utilise your own customer data can also be useful here.

4. Keep calm and carry on testing

When these events occur the natural reaction for some can be to go into defensive mode. However, it becomes even more important to stabilise, provide genuine, honest support to your existing customers and, yes, maximise conversions and bookings from those visitors who are still looking to book.

What we have seen during force majeure events in the past is that while traffic volumes may decrease, conversion rates do not necessarily have to follow suit, and a few strong projects can help you to maintain revenue levels, so that when the event eventually passes and things start to get back to normal your business is in the strongest position it can be to make up that lost ground.

When you’re in the middle of the event and you’re dealing with the concerns and pressures that brings, it’s good to not forget that the tide will eventually turn. In 2003 during the SARS outbreak, a six-month period of sharp decline was followed by an equally quick recovery.

“Life finds a way” may be a fictional quote from a fictional doctor about some fictional dinosaurs – but ultimately its true. These events will happen and then life will continue and get back to normal and your business needs to be in a position to come out stronger at the other side when it does.

Webtrends Optimize has a team of optimisation experts with huge experience in the travel industry. If you would like to discuss the ideas above, or other options and solutions further, or would like a platform demo please get in touch.