The impact of Covid-19 on the travel and hospitality sector has been profound. In a September 2020 report, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimated that between 121 and 197 million travel and tourism jobs could be lost as a result of Covid-19 by the end of 2020, along with a total of $3.7 trillion worth of GDP.

One key way that travel and hospitality companies can ensure their futures in the midst of Covid-19 and beyond is to invest in digital touchpoints and experiences. But data from Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends: Travel & Hospitality in Focus sector report, carried out in partnership with Econsultancy, shows that there is a lot of ground to make up in this regard.

First, the good news: according to Adobe’s own research, close to half (46%) of companies in the sector already brought in more than half of their sales through digital channels before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. And more than four fifths (82%) of respondents to the 2021 Trends survey either “agree” or “strongly agree” that they’ve had to accelerate their digital transformation over the past six months, with 87% saying they plan to launch new digital offerings focused on customer engagement.

Many travel and hospitality companies are pessimistic about their current ability to meet customers’ expectations, however. Sixty-five percent of respondents either “agree” or “strongly agree” that customer expectations are ahead of their organisation’s current digital capabilities, and just 17% would describe their companies as “very advanced” in customer experience (CX). A larger percentage – 51% – would describe their CX as “somewhat advanced”, while 25% say they are “not very advanced”, and 7% describe their CX as “immature”.

Graph showing how respondents answered the question 'How do you rate your company's customer experience (CX) maturity?'

How well-placed will travel companies be to make improvements of the customer experience a reality in 2021? Times are still hard, and the Digital Trends 2021 report suggests that shrinking budgets could complicate travel and hospitality companies’ customer engagement plans: close to two fifths (37%) of respondents expect a “significant cut” (more than 10%) to their marketing budget in 2021, with a further 7% expecting a less significant drop.

Fortunately, travel companies do overwhelmingly recognise that digitised experiences hold the key to their long-term survival. Eighty-four percent of respondents either agree or strongly agree that they are “increasing/shifting budget to support customer demand for digitised experiences” – meaning that the budget they do have will be concentrated in the right place.

The Digital Trends 2021 report suggests that companies may invest in martech to increase efficiency and improve CX, as well as evaluating factors like data, content, decision and delivery to understand and address the areas where they are struggling to deliver on experience.

For more insights into digital trends in the travel and hospitality sector, download the full 2021 Digital Trends – Travel & Hospital in Focus report.

To learn about how brands including TUI, easyHotel and Avanti West Coast are tackling the customer experience challenges of 2021, don’t miss Econsultancy Live 2021: What’s Next for CX?, taking place on 27-28 April.