The coronavirus pandemic and social distancing warnings are going to have long-lasting effects. We’re likely to want to continue basic hygiene long after requirements lift. Remember when a little soap and a rinse was washing your hands? That was just last month. Remember when videoconferencing was a clunky, annoying technology and you weren’t used to taking meetings that way? Getting everyone’s tech challenges sorted out here is a real threat to the travel industry.
The impressions and beliefs we’re forming through this crisis are going to carry forward, and that will have long-lasting effects on travel brands. We’re used to being abused on the road, and even when we swear we’ll never fly with one airline, or stay with another hotel chain, that rarely has much effect.
We’re in the process of a real shift in cultural belief formation, so the impressions of brands are likely to be far more lasting than before. And after all, our experiences with a travel brand now can’t easily be ‘written over’ by new experiences that follow quickly after.
So here’s an early stab at brands that rise in status based on how they’re handling the crisis, and those that fall in status as well.
Outside of travel the biggest status gains are for health care workers, telemedicine, and videoconferencing and remote workers. In our world of travel, I think the biggest gainers are:
- Hotel chains generally: refunding money on prepaid bookings for hotels that remain open.
- Hilton: for being fast out of the gate to renew everyone’s elite status
- Hyatt: for being first to offer something (points) for non-refundable bookings, quickly improving their offer to free cancellations, and delaying points devaluations
- American Airlines: though they’ve certainly done a bunch of late cancellations of flights, after most passengers already bailed on their trips and accepted future travel credit, they’ve been willing to honor refunds (as they are legally required to do when flights are cancelled and also to waive fees to redeposit miles for cancelled trips
- Four Seasons New York: giving rooms free to health care workers so they don’t have to commute after working 14+ hour shifts.
Outside of travel the biggest status declines are the FDA (which banned most COVID-19 tests until very late), the World Health Organization and the CDC (advising against wearing masks to prevent spreading the virus). In our travel world, the biggest status declines are:
- United Airlines: the first U.S. airline to (illegally) refuse to refund tickets for cancelled flights, and how does switching to only look at how much a customer spends to determine their loyalty look these days? They’ve already had to cut spending requirements in half and they say they’ll need to do more.
- Marriott: for being last to offer any kind of flexibility for prepaid reservations, and for laying off many of the customer service agents who take care of the chain’s best customers
- Delta: having led the charge against government money in aviation since 2015 and then lining up for a bailout.
- IATA: the international airline trade association which has been lobbying against consumer protection rules to allow carriers to keep a customer’s money even when they cancel flights.
- TSA liquid ban: all of a sudden 3 ounce rules weren’t so important and passengers could bring full-sized hand sanitizer through security checkpoints. If those are safe now, they were safe before too, and the liquid ban is further exposed for the security theater it’s always been. (The American people are downgraded in status too, for not demanding change, since TSA was already tossing so-called dangerous liquids in bins beside the checkpoint yet there were few demands for change.)
- Expedia: the last think anyone has wanted is to deal with trying to cancel travel plans while dealing with Expedia customer service. Online travel agency sites have been an additional barrier to getting refunds and avoiding fees.
- Partnership For Fair & Open Skies: the lobby group formed by Delta, United and American to argue for restricting consumer choice and higher prices by limiting U.S. flying by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. The crux of their argument was: it’s unfair for U.S. airlines to compete against carriers receiving government support. The claims were always disingenuous but now there’s no way for the U.S. carriers to even pretend to oppose government bailouts.
The question here isn’t ‘who is the best’ but who has risen or fallen relative to previous estimation? A brand could still be really bad, just better than before. Or it might still be good, yet tarnished.
Which travel brand reputations are the biggest winners and losers coming out of this crisis?