As a frequent flyer between Dubai and London and a regular traveller to other international destinations such as New York, I have a keen interest in what makes a travel comfortable and enjoyable. It's not, as some may think, always about bells and whistles and lots of fuss.
A good travel experience lowers our anxiety and stress levels, and the simpler, more professional the service we receive, the better. Going from one location to another should be a fluid journey; an experience you look forward to, and most importantly that you don't remember/don't realise you've started.
What travel companies need to do is produce a seamless service that not only takes the potential stress out of travelling, but adds an extra layer of enjoyment to make the trip more memorable.
The first mistake that many travel operators make is to be insular in their thinking when it comes to providing and publicising their offering.
Travel brands are great at highlighting specific services such as comfort or the ease of check-in, but often ignore the passenger journey up until that point, for instance getting up early, travelling to the airport and managing heavy luggage.
Passengers go through a lot even before they have checked-in and brands would do well to consider the travel experience as a whole in order to gauge their customers' needs. For example, offering a complimentary coffee to compensate for a 5am start or a massage to aid tired shoulders after heavy luggage lifting would help to improve moods and make an excellent first impression.
Technological developments have done much to change our opinions and behaviour as travellers. Fast-track services mean that the check-in process is no longer the stressful and drawn out slog it used to be, but instead signals the true beginning of the travel experience.
I for one no longer stay longer in a city killing time on departure day; once my business is done, I don't dread the wait at the airport, in fact I now check in earlier as the fast track service means I get through the gates quickly and easily. Club lounges also add to the excitement and occasion of travelling, meaning you can relax and be entertained whilst waiting for your flight rather than wishing the hours away. I have to say though; London's club lounge experience is better than Dubai's!
However, with all this talk of fast tracking and club lounges, we must remember that times are tight, and business as well as First Class travel is sometimes too expensive, especially for frequent flyers.
Travel brands have seized upon this in recent years and the rise of Premium Economy seats has meant travellers can enjoy a sense of luxury without raiding the bank. That said, travel customers are always willing to put their hands in their pockets for the right experience, and brands such as Virgin have the cool factor that persuades people to part with their cash, in exchange for a journey which not only gets you there but also is the first stage of an unforgettable travel experience.
Brands need to wise up to the fact that customers are willing to pay the difference, especially on longer haul journeys, for comfort and entertainment on a flight, and these needs must be met accordingly. Again, it's about going the extra mile (excuse the pun) to make that experience memorable, so extra service flourishes, touches that take customers by surprise, and above all, friendly and flexible attitudes are vital.
Finally, in today's technology-driven world, it's essential that brands make the most of all the customer touch-points available to them to capitalise on the service they are providing and invite customers to interact with them.
Active and engaging Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles will not only encourage customers to feed back and comment on their experiences with the brand, but will also allow their followers and friends to see what the brand is doing. With this obviously comes the risk of negative word of mouth if brands are making mistakes, but if they are getting it right, the rewards are endless.
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