The customer experience: How traveller needs have changed during the pandemic

By James Parkhouse, CEO, Capita Travel and Events

As an organisation, to enhance and improve the traveller wellbeing experience, our go-to model has often been Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, which allows us to focus on, understand and meet the needs of the customer experience.

Maslow is useful here because he explores how people don't just have basic needs like safety and physiological needs but psychological and self-fulfilment needs too.

Before the pandemic, a positive perception and confidence in safe travel meant basic needs were often taken for granted, with the focus turning toward a combination of psychological and self-fulfilment. For example, here are five things people might have focussed on before the pandemic:

  1. Favourite seat availability: Is there a forward facing/window seat available on the train, with table, power connections etc. Can I get WIFI on-board? Or an aisle seat or one near the front of the plane?

  2. Reward programmes: Am I flying or staying somewhere I can get loyalty points or air miles?

  3. Does the hotel have the facilities I like: Does it have a gym, pool and/or spa?

  4. Local amenities: Are there good restaurants, pubs around? Are there some local attractions nearby?

  5. Convenience: Is it near to where I am working or meeting?

12 months on and the pandemic has had a decisive influence over those needs. The focus has reverted to the base of the pyramid, with traveller reassurance and confidence in the basic safety requirement no longer considered a given – and with it has come a shift in the kind of questions and requirements too:

  1. Differing local rules/restrictions: Can I travel? And if so, are there any restrictions within the country/area I’m travelling to?

  2. Confidence in social distancing: Can I get there with minimum social contact? Should I travel by using car hire vs. train? Can I pay by card vs. cash?

  3. Staying overnight: Can I stay overnight? Are properties safe? What measures are in place for when I get there? Has the room been thoroughly cleaned? What will I do for food? Has my TMC and company approved the hotel?

  4. Uncertainty around rule changes: Have rules changed during my trip/since I last travelled? Can I leave my room? Is my flight still available? Will seat availability be an issue on the train?

  5. Quarantine, testing and self-isolation: Do I need to isolate or take a Covid test – before or after my trip?

For travellers, the previously held reassurance that being able to travel safely has lessened.

A travellers’ need to move and connect safely and securely has surged to the front of their own and their employer’s priorities - above many others.

The question, then, is how long before people are comfortable at the base of the pyramid and can begin to move up?

While travel volumes will progressively return over time, will these considerations remain at the heart of what drives decision making - post pandemic?