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The 8 Battlegrounds every Airline & Airport will need to fight following the Covid19 pandemic

By David Griffiths

VP Content, Head of Insight
8 minute read

It is time to start working on what coming back to travel will actually look like. The time for taking stock is passing, even though it might not feel like that for most of us around the world still feeling the very real pressures of travel bans, stay at home orders and furloughs. I make this statement not to be callous, not to downplay the savage nature of this deeply disruptive pandemic, but because there simply is no alternative.

In the past week I’ve spoken to several airlines and airports. For those that still can perform their function, they’ve never been busier. Nor have my team. 12 hour days in back to back meetings and online workshops, without even a commute to break things up, is starting to feel normal. We’re not equating value to the amount of time we spend behind our computers either. We’re doing this because for the first time, maybe ever, we are not trying to tie our shoelaces while sprinting. This isn’t to say we’re not desperate for things to return to a more normal state, we all are, we need it to, but we’re all collectively aware of 2 things.

  1. When travel takes off again, the industry can’t (and won’t) be the same as it was before Covid19

  2. The need to develop and deliver a safer, superior travel experience is increasingly pressing, with many regions returning to travel in the next few weeks

As I wrote about in the last blog, we have been leveraging our tools and technology to support Black Swan & Fethr’s partners through this crisis. Since writing that post, we have consulted several more, making use of our 900m passenger conversation database to design data led strategies that can help them restore passenger confidence post Covid19.

Through these engagements, we’ve seen 8 large clusters of passenger conversation surface more than any other. We’ve termed these the Battlegrounds, and with our partners over the next few weeks, we’ll be working out what each of these mean for them in turn As part of that process, we’d like to offer up some of this insight to the wider travel industry. We’ll do this by posting 8 additional blogs, with each one based on a Battleground that discusses some of the universal truths that transcend the brand and customer bases of the customers we’re consulting for. Hopefully some of the insights shared can de-risk a few of the many decisions you’re all making at the moment.

The Battlegrounds

NOTE: These aren’t in a particular order. Each business we have supported has indexed more in certain Battlegrounds the others. We’ve helped them focus on the highest priority areas for their businesses based on

i. the areas their customers have said are most important; and

ii. the areas the business has felt they can most influence.

We’ll release the blogs based on the areas we receive most requests for that week

1. Immediate Travel (for those with a positive outlook).

In the coming weeks we’ll explore this large group that want to get back into the sky as soon as possible. We’ve had a 158% growth in our dataset of people talking about this, suggesting the moment their travel bans are lifted, they’ll be flying. There are steps we need to take to make it safe for these passengers to fly, as well as the ones who might be flying more reluctantly and feeling less confident.

2. Customer Service & Loyalty

We’ve analysed 2,827,025 traveller conversations discussing how different brands have responded with regard to their members of loyalty programs. It’s been quite eye opening; some have got it right, and others have got it terribly wrong. We’d reasonably expect customers to stay loyal in peace times even after several bad experiences, we wouldn’t say the same today as the landscape has completely changed. We envisage a number of people abandoning their statuses to go with brands that have shown themselves to be more worthy of their loyalty. This pandemic may prove to be the catalyst for breaking down customer relationships that were more tenuous, encouraging many to take the leap.

3. Travel Disruption

The Covid19 pandemic has exposed a lot of flaws in company policy when it comes to refunds, changes and cancellation, amongst other things. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll see the same volumes of people booking no refund travel in the immediate future. Millions of people being told to essentially go whistle has understandably shattered confidence for a huge sector of the travel market. We’ll explore this and many other trends within the Travel Disruption battleground.

4. Safety & Sanitation

This Battleground needs little introduction and is by far the largest topic at the moment. At the time of publishing our Covid19 report, it had been an area that had grown 359% in aviation conversations alone. Since then its continued to climb. Traveller conversations around packed flights where no distancing is being practiced, lax landing processes in airports and dirty amenities continue to abound. Passenger concerns extend beyond the journey itself, with accommodation concerns particularly prevalent.

5. Food & Beverage / Catering

Huge inflight, in the airport and on the ground at our destinations. This Battleground will see some of the most change. Catering is going to require a concerted effort across all of your partners to build the right proposition. Black Swan have already seen changes in the types of ingredients people are talking about. For instance, people are looking for medicinal qualities in the foods in everyday diets. We can expect this type of trend to translate into the travel market much faster than we did before Covid19. Menus need to be designed around emerging passenger needs – your customers’ loyalty is up for grabs.

6. Communications

I am sure everyone reading this will have received at least 100 communications from brands and businesses during the Covid19 pandemic. Whether it’s an airline you’ve flown with for 10 years, or the bike rental place you used 10 years ago, we’ve seen a huge spike in conversation related to good and bad communication. We’ll unpack traveller responses & engagement with brand / business communications (understanding of messaging etc.) as well as how travellers feel their grievances have been dealt with.

7. Financial Concerns

Growing at a rate of 227%, this Battleground continues to increase in importance and not just because of the refunds people are trying to get back from travel they can’t now take. This growth is driven by concerns people won’t be able to afford to travel due to a reduced or non-existent income at this moment in time. This Battleground is made up of people that want to travel, but who are going to require our help to do so. Whole new sectors of travel and tourism will be created by entrepreneurs and businesses that offer flexibility in pricing and can bring a fresh perspective on lower cost destinations and experiences that don’t feel cheap.

8. Reluctance to Travel (for those with a negative outlook)

This is the area that will require the most work, but we’ve also found it to be one of the most telling. The brands and businesses with the largest amount of these customers are generally the ones that have been neglecting the other battlegrounds, especially so from the Communications and Customer Service & Loyalty Battlegrounds. Understanding the steps airlines can take to rebuild confidence and trust with consumers is going to be crucial to getting them back in the air.


David Griffiths,

  • Head of Insight Fethr
  • VP Content Black Swan

Thank you for reading, and for more information or to explore any of the above in any further detail please get in touch with Patrick Prefontaine at patrick.prefontaine@blackswan.com or by using the contact form below.

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