Globally, the travel sector is lagging behind other sectors, and its CEE score is also falling. It became first in Indonesia only. A fantastic experience and exciting stories with a happy ending – we never tire of such holiday souvenirs. Occupying this year’s winners’ podium were firms that honed their ability to deal with problems, offered appropriate compensation, and empathized with customer needs, wishes, and concerns. Free cancellation and the personalization of offers are now accepted by customers as standard, and they are lured by rewards and compensation in the form of credits.
First, the market is consolidating and consists of the top five or perhaps ten strong players who work with data and know their customers and their needs. The other firms focus on personalizing offers for specific market niches, which reflects the ever-growing “go local” phenomenon. People are hungry for unique local brands, products, and services.
The second significant change is on the demand side, which is a result of COVID-19 and continues today. People ceased making long-term plans, instead preferring to take last-minute decisions depending on the situation. They also travelled shorter distances, but COVID-19 is not the only reason for this trend. These ever more hectic times and companies permitting employees to take shorter but more frequent holidays are also factors.
Third, the number of business trips has declined dramatically. People have become accustomed to online workshops, meetings, and conferences because of COVID-19 and because firms are tending towards sustainability and striving to reduce their carbon footprint.
Last year, the winners succeeded in flexibly responding to the testing pandemic period and learned to factor in their customers’ changing health and personal circumstances. They also considered customers’ concerns. The 2022 leaders followed this trend; although the Travel and Hotels sector score fell year-on-year, it improved in the Problem Solving and Empathy pillars, reflecting a sector-wide better understanding of customers.
COVID-19 accelerated digitalization processes in the accommodation sector, and companies focused on minimizing human contact. The digitalization trend continued this year, but more likely because of a lack of staff. Customers awarded the best scores to companies in the online services (Booking.com) and accommodation (Airbnb) sub-sectors. Accommodation and transport improved significantly in the rankings of all pillars, where mostly privately-owned companies gained points. Playing a significant role are the possibilities of personalization, process digitalization and the related simplification of choosing and buying a service. This approach has helped travel agency BlueStyle jump up the rankings this year.
The study shows that customers in the Travel and Hotels sector are a sensitive group with a tendency to evaluate services more critically. They often take quality service and a willingness to solve problems for granted. Significantly exceeding the client’s expectations thus becomes crucial to a positive evaluation and brand success. This goal can be achieved with a friendly approach and a favourable price that surprises the client.
This year, Booking.com defended its position as the sector leader for the third time. It gained clients primarily through an easy-to-navigate website and the option to filter offers based on several criteria. Even before COVID-19, this service set the standard for the current approach to accommodation searches. People have become accustomed to using client reviews and booking well in advance, with the assurance of free cancellation should their plans change. They also appreciate the effectiveness of multi-level problem solving problems.
In 2022, the Booking.com platform began sharing detailed data about the people searching on the website and booking holidays. Hoteliers use it to identify current trends and demand. Booking.com also personalizes the offer for each customer based on their previous requirements. Furthermore, it introduced the Sustainable Travel programme, which appeals to holidaymakers keen to reduce the environmental impact of their trip. Booking.com stands out from its competitors by, among other things, offering a Czech version of its website and customer support in the language.
Flexibility and the possibility of “self-service” won over Airbnb’s customers too. The platform brings together property owners, all of whom provide short-term rentals. Based on a sufficient level of customer feedback, the company featured again in the list of 100 most successful companies in the Czech Republic, after a two-year gap. The rail carrier RegioJet placed second in the Travel and Hotels sector. Airbnb enables customers to search for attractive and affordable accommodation offers from private hosts in one place and acts as a mediator if something goes wrong. Thanks to Airbnb, the popularity (and the standard) of private accommodation and awareness of it have increased.
Airbnb is constantly improving its applications and websites to make searching easier and more convenient. For example, in mid-2022, it added three new functions to the filters, making accommodation searches even more specific, with a flexible date or destination.
„Excellent services, pleasant staff, and clean trains (including toilets). The price of the services came as a pleasant surprise.“
Woman, 43, Leo Express
„We use this service regularly. We travel a lot, and Booking is one of the first options we look through. Booking.com even took care of us when we had a dispute with the property owner. They sorted out everything for us. Very quick contact, and then resolution of the situation.“
Woman, 33, Booking.com
„I booked accommodation in Prague but had to change it at the last minute. They were very cooperative and advised me on how to sort out everything.“
Woman, 26, Booking.com
„Very useful service. It’s easy to find affordable accommodation, and the reviews of previous users are really inspiring. We’ve used it several times and are always satisfied with the service. Last time, we booked accommodation for six at a fantastic price. The facilities are 100 percent.“
Woman, 49, Airbnb
„We made a reservation but then couldn’t stay at the accommodation. The cancellation and refund were sorted out swiftly and without any hassle.“
Woman, 50, Airbnb
„From time to time, my grandson and I take the train from Hanušovice to Ústí nad Orlicí. The crew we meet always treat us brilliantly (my grandson has a disability), and the journeys are very comfortable. But what surprises us the most is that we can always travel for free with Leo credits, from the second journey onwards. We wish Leo Express all the best for the future!“
Man, 74, Leo Express
„Excellent customer service, easy-to-navigate website, convenient ticket purchase, comfortable seats on the train, and the offer of refreshments was excellent too.“
Woman, 21, Leo Express
„I have credit that I can use to buy a ticket. In May, I booked a trip to Prague (to visit family), but it was cancelled two days before the trip due to illness. I had to ask Leo Express for a refund. I was delighted that they did so without any problems.“
Woman, 67, Leo Express
„Interacting with Blue Style was excellent. They always offered advice, and nothing was a problem. The Blue Style app is amazing, and the holiday countdown feature is simply the best.“
Man, 42, Blue Style
The private train company Leo Express, which operates services on certain important sections of the Czech railway network, scored points this year. It has overtaken great rival RegioJet. At the end of 2021, Leo Express identified a new strategic partner, the Spanish state-owned railway company Renfe, which purchased a 50 percent stake in Leo Express. The latter promises to expand connections to other areas and introduce innovations through this step. In the summer of 2022, Leo Express won the tender to operate the lucrative Bratislava to Komárno route, thus succeeding in meeting these goals. Regarding customer experience, Leo Express scores points with its function-packed application. Passengers can use it to buy tickets and receive up-to-date journey information. In addition, Leo Express converts the kilometres they cover into a discount for future journeys, and they receive “Leo credits” for cancelled tickets.
Judging by their evaluations, customers still remember the low standards of Czech (and other) railway transport of previous decades. Therefore they stressed features that should be (and increasingly already are) offered as standard in the sub-sector: above all, punctual connections, clean and comfortable trains, staff friendliness, and convenience when buying tickets online.
Leo Express also won bronze in the sector rankings, thanks to the speedy resolution of problems.
The common denominator of success in the Travel and Hotels sector is the high level of freedom and personalization. People increasingly prefer to choose a route based on their preferences. Even traditional travel agencies are noticing this and more frequently offering tailor-made packages. The need to book a “prefabricated” tour, including services of no interest to the customer, is now a thing of the past.
Blue Style, this year’s climber (and the sixth company in the travel sector), is one of the brands that used the pandemic to its advantage. It underwent a transformation to increase convenience for clients, offering simple and easy-to-follow services with a high degree of automation and digitalization. Unsurprisingly, streamlining, speeding up purchases, and resolving ever more complex problems from the comfort of your home were the main topics of positive reviews.
Like every other sector, Travel and Hotel has been hit by the energy crisis. And the sector will likely suffer the consequences of being a non-essential good through reduced demand and worsened customer experience. Hotels and portals can avoid this fate by properly setting up customer experience orchestration processes.
„I’m very satisfied with this company. As soon as they find out my accommodation request, they offer similar ones to the ones I have chosen.“
Woman, 68, Booking.com
„Because of the flight, I registered and downloaded the app. Unfortunately, part of my flight was cancelled on the way back. I didn’t get any notifications, and no one answered when I called. And my daughter – who has Asperger’s syndrome – and I stayed at the airport and waited for the next flight for about 26 hours. No one offered us any help, and we had to sleep on very uncomfortable seats at the airport. Neither an apology nor any compensation. Thanks to this situation, I spent several thousand crowns extra…“
Woman, 45, X Company