International Travel

Travel customer service resilience in the age of climate disruption

It was Friday, September 29, and a young family from Brooklyn was headed to Orlando for a weekend of theme parks, restaurants and splashing in the hotel pool, where the afternoon high temperature would reach 88 degrees. They never got there.

A weak low-pressure area developed off the east coast of the United States the day prior as it absorbed the remains of Tropical Storm Ophelia. The weather system then stalled over the region, dropping heavy rainfall across areas that were already under a flood watch after Ophelia had moved through just days earlier.

Central Park recorded 5.8 inches of rain that day. Park Slope in Brooklyn received an unheard of 9.8 inches. Rivers of water ran through the streets, subways were flooded and 300 flights from LaGuardia were canceled. This was just one of hundreds of families with disappointed kids that Friday afternoon.

No reasonable person would ever blame their airline, hotel or ground transportation provider for these forceful acts of nature. But the cancellation was just the start of the family’s problems that day. In the midst of their disappointment, their next nightmare began: re-booking all their flights, cars, hotel rooms and theme parks. This involved multiple apps, emails and phone calls that took the better part of the parents’ afternoon. The joy of a sunny Florida afternoon faded into the pain of an administrative task.

This customer burden is why climate disruption is so much more than an operational problem; the impacts of severe weather and wildfires are taking a growing toll on your best customers. Travelers are perplexed as to why disruption challenges can’t be solved as quickly as their new bookings are made – seamlessly and without rounds of phone calls or delays. But seamless responses to cancellations are rare and usually nowhere near as comprehensive as the customer would like.

 I look forward to exploring how to make customer service far more resilient in the age of climate disruption during a session at The Phocuswright Conference November 15. The reality is that travel providers now have access to the data that enables a real-time, proactive approach to helping their customers manage disruptions of all types. They are now able to see across the customer’s journey, which means not only can they suggest an alternative flight or hotel, but they can notify the car rental provider and theme park of the customer’s cancellation and ease the path to re-booking of the entire journey. When it comes to customer engagement, all of this can be done within the travel providers app, automatically.

A real-time, full journey view of the customer enables specific climate disruption benefits, like:

  • Automatic re-booking of hotels, cars and more.
  • Alternative travel options based on the totality of the journey.
  • Targeted service based on business vs. leisure travelers, individuals vs. families, domestic vs. international and length of stay.
  • Special offers and upgrades based on partner status or customer value score.

While the increasing severity and frequency of climate-related disruptions is inevitable in the coming years, severely disappointed customers are not. The upside of a full-journey view of the customer is the opportunity it creates to strengthen customer goodwill and increase net promoter scores (NPS); customers always remember who was there for them in their time of need. Travel providers, fortunately, can now do so much more than just tell them: “I’m sorry.”

About the author …

Jeffrey Katz is founder and CEO of travel technology company Journera. He was previously founding CEO of Orbitz, CEO of Swissair and president of Sabre.

The Phocuswright Conference 2023

Hear more about how technology can help mitigate travel
disruptions in a panel co-moderated by Jeff Katz with panelists including Sun
Country Airlines’ senior vice president Brian Davis, Hyatt vice president Paul
Weaver and retired Delta Airlines CIO Theresa Wise.

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