The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the airline and hospitality sectors hard. While nobody knows exactly what the future will look like, brands are shifting focus to re-engaging with their most valuable customers—and a bit of human understanding can help. 

Gone are the days where a complimentary beverage was all it took to win over loyal hotel or airline customers. In the future, unlimited hand sanitizer might be more motivating. But the truth is, it’s too early to tell—based on the current lack of transactional and customer action—what that future will look like.

As airline and hotel brands focus on bringing loyal travelers back as quickly as possible in a post-COVID-19 world, a more human experience, driven by customers’ underlying values, will be key.

Using Deloitte Digital’s proprietary Values Compass, we set out to learn what these loyal travelers care about most.

The Values Compass is built on an algorithm that uses targeted questions to map humans against eight cardinal values: ambition, trying new things, curiosity, belonging, caring for others, control, and learning new things.

So, what did we find?

Values are the aggregate of our experiences, are slow to shift, and are therefore a good way to predict people’s long-term behavior. Unsurprisingly, airline and hotel frequent travelers have nearly identical values, and at the top of the list? Sharing with others and trying new things. But the pandemic brings with it added safety concerns that organizations will need to address.

For instance, in a recent survey, 78% and 87% of frequent hotel and airline travelers, respectively, said that an advance email outlining new cleaning practices would be very or somewhat important in making them feel more comfortable resuming travel and other activities.

Rewards programs also have the potential to play a significant role in recovering customer loyalty, as they appeal to the desire to feel valued. And they can be a low-investment shift that can help brands shift quickly.

Beyond ensuring customers that rewards programs will not expire (which many brands have done as a first step), those organizations that can identify, communicate, and act upon a brand purpose that overlaps with the human values of their customers will be better positioned to thrive.

Creating differentiation in a new normal

In a post-COVID-19 environment, hotels and airlines will be expected to be more digitally enabled than ever, following suit with remote work capabilities and retail industry shifts. But that doesn’t have to mean more distant. To help foster strong relationships with guests and increase positive interactions, brands can:

  • Surprise and delight their travelers by offering digital connection points to their friends and family back home
  • Re-align rewards programs and messaging to deliver innovative incentives based on human values
  • Enhance communications and actions to put customers’ well-bring and safety first
  • For hotels, offer unique experiences tied to local culture
  • For airlines, focus more on bringing a community mindset to rewards programs, encouraging loyal travelers to share rewards

While no one knows just how long it will take for business to feel “usual” again—or what that usual will look like, elevating the human experience can help brands go beyond the transactional to drive loyalty and truly connect with their customers.

To learn more about our values-based approach to helping airline and hospitality brands respond, recover, and thrive in the face of our new realities, download The values of loyalty in a crisis.

Ashley Reichheld is a Principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and the leader of the  Customer and Marketing  practice for the Automotive, Transportation, Hospitality, and Services sector.

Maggie Gross is the Head of Strategy at Heat, our award-winning advertising agency. She has dedicated most of her life to figuring out “what makes people tick.”

Yoni Sebag is a senior consultant in the Customer and Marketing practice. He’s obsessed with all modes of transportation and travel, from cars to boats and everything in between.

Sam Glassoff is a senior strategist in our Deloitte Studios. He is a self-proclaimed “data nerd” who is fascinated by human behavior and consumer decision-making.