As travel companies look to bring back business in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic the single most important asset they need to leverage is customer trust. Some brands are trying to license trust from others – United is paying to attach Clorox’s name to its cleaning regiment, Hilton is paying Lysol.
At the end of the day though people need to feel confident it’s safe for them to travel, which means both real precautions need to be put in place and customers have to believe that those precautions are actually being taken even when they occur outside of view.
That’s why finding hotels that aren’t even changing the sheets between guests now is so challenging. That has been the case at hotels in the past but the consequences now are much greater.
While United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby derides blocking middle seats as mere marketing he’s actually right but he misses that marketing is one of the two key components of customer trust. The substance has to be there, but customers can only look for clues to see if that’s true. There are visible signs a business is committed to keeping customers safe. A business that will block one third of its seats is putting its money where its mouth is. Whether that kind of distancing matters, it’s a strong signal.
It’s hard to build a brand just-in-time when you need it. In order to do that you need to go overboard to an extreme in order to signal credible commitment. That’s actually how I think about Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. He was never actually going to build a wall on the border with Mexico and get Mexico to pay for it but he was going to such an extreme to signal commitment, since his base had stopped trusting politicians and political promises. Hence the admonition that the media took him literally but not seriously, while his voters took him seriously but not literally.
Going into a crisis it helps to actually have a brand that fits. A Japanese airport that already wipes down passenger luggage before it arrivals on the conveyer belt is going to have an easy time convincing customers that it takes cleanliness seriously.
Overall it’s hard to imagine a great trust level here in aviation than for Singapore’s Changi airport and for Singapore Airlines.
- Singapore Airlines once built a model Airbus A380 using manila envelopes, and the seats inside the model actually reclined. (“It’s the small details that make giants in the sky.”)
- And just think about how clean Changi airport keeps their restrooms during normal times.
Singapore’s airport is now promoting that they’ve gone touch-free throughout the travel experience, from check-in to the elevators. Even the toilets are now contactless.
I trust Singapore – its airline and airline – to make these kinds of decisions. In challenging times in the past U.S. airlines have skimped on cleaning. When DFW Airport has renovated its terminals they’ve had to skimp on renovating restrooms because American Airlines wouldn’t pay for it.
When you don’t have cleanliness and trust as a brand, you have to massively overshoot on investment to credibly signal ‘this time is different’.