CEO Blog

Why recovery with a “new normal” won’t work

Written by Ravindra Bhagwanani on . Posted in CEO Blog

12 May 2021

Various industry players put all their forces together to create the “new normal”. But if they succeed, this will come at the price of a considerably extended period of recovery. Customers though might only wish for a return to the old normal.

Many surprising and disappointing things could have been observed for more than one year now. From a headless industry body struggling to find its place and define its position in such a hostile market environment to influential consultants converting themselves from one day to another to experts in health questions, without sufficient people really wondering about their corresponding qualifications for assuming such a role.

And on top, the industry agenda is directed by a patchwork of government regulations, changing at rapid pace and being unpredictable as a result.

Moving towards the new normal

No doubt, things are moving in the right direction and travel is actually possible again in many markets if you are willing to respect the rules. But travel looks indeed like moving towards this much-described new normal, including aspects such as mandatory vaccination/testing, mandatory mask wearing, reduced in-flight service, closed hotel restaurants and closed airline lounges – plus a bulk of unpredictable restrictions and limitations at destination. However hard marketing departments try to sell the benefits of this new reality, the travel experience has nothing in common anymore with the previous freedom and art de vivre, which used to be closely associated with travel and made its whole charm, be it for business or personal purposes.

Without any intended political statement, maybe French President Macron is right when claiming that we need to live with the virus and opens up the country in spite of rather high rates of incidence, compared to some neighbouring countries. The underlying message is at the same time that things might, in the end, not be as bad as headline-grabbing mainstream media want to make us think. According to that thinking, this means that everybody would have to assume certain responsibility and weight the risk-benefits in an individual manner. As such, you will have fully vaccinated people preferring to stay at home while unvaccinated people don’t mind the risk of travelling to an area with a strong circulation of the virus and exposing themselves to it. As it used to be the norm in the old normal with plenty of things, from terrorism to diseases.

After a short transition, travellers want to return to old normal

In spite of a 14-month global brainwashing, the majority of travellers is indeed still likely to want this old reality back. Yes, there is a wide common understanding that certain measures need to be taken as we move out of the crisis – but customers actually expect this transition to be as short as possible, talking about weeks rather than months or even years.

Until then, all discretional travel will continue to be avoided as much as possible, meaning that the travel market will not recover. It should not be forgotten either that things like testing regimes (often even mandatory for vaccinated or immunised persons) add considerably to the total bill for customers and complicate things from a pure logistic perspective, putting another hurdle in front of them. Yes, testing is the solution for now – but you need to understand that you probably cut out far more than 50% of the market size like that upfront.

The other day, I happened to witness a discussion at a friend’s place here in the Toulouse area, talking about their holiday plans for July. The wife wanted to book a trip to the French island of Corsica. For domestic travel within France, no testing regime is in place at this point – with the exception of Corsica. It is entirely unclear what the reasoning for that exception is since the current rate of incidence in Corsica is exactly the same as in the Toulouse area. The husband, a pre-Covid frequent flyer with Gold status with Air France, refuses though to let anybody into his nose to make a PCR test and the idea of the trip was buried as a result since they didn’t want to bet on a potential relaxation of that rule by July.

This might sound stupid – but trips are not being realised these days because of obstacles like this one and everybody should be aware of that.

Questioning the value of what you buy

Or what is the purpose of buying a Business Class ticket or book yourself into the executive floor at a hotel if you are unable to go to a lounge and are served some prepacked food? Or why does France all of a sudden require mandatory quarantine for passengers travelling through (!) the UAE, where the rate of incidence is less than half of the national average in France? Is it perhaps just a commercial measure to protect the again state-owned carrier from the Gulf competitors through the back door?

All this incoherence needs to be stopped as quickly as possible as preliminary condition to any sustainable recovery.

Role of loyalty managers

And what is the responsibility of loyalty managers in this process? Loyalty managers are not only the element linking the company with customers, but also the other way round. Loyalty managers need to provide a feedback to the company about how customers feel. Is it normal that, for instance, 50% of pre-Covid elite members have still not returned at all and that only a low single digit percentage number has come back to previous activity levels? And if you don’t accept that, what is the reason for their behaviour and what needs to be changed to get them back? In absence of any more accurate knowledge, top management might simply continue to pursue its “new normal” model under the influence of “general” opinion until it gets such feedback from you, representing the customer voice.

We all have to assume our role in this recovery process and, even more importantly, construct it ourselves. Otherwise, things can really get out of control and work against the common interests of the industry – which is widely built on mass. Before the masses will return to the road, the industry will not be back in the shape we all want it to be.