Next Normal Travel: how the pandemic changed travellers’ behaviour
In resuming and improving dialogue with consumers, in 2021 Autogrill Group launched a new listening project called Next Normal in Travel.
The objective was to understand consumers’ expectations and worries about a “new normality” heavily conditioned by the post-pandemic situation and to explore any changes in their preferences and purchasing behaviour, whether temporary or long-term. The insights that emerged from the survey are going to be very useful in developing new listening projects for the coming years.
Next Normal was conducted in the USA, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, the UK and Switzerland and involved consumers across all our channels (airports, motorways, railway stations), with questionnaires and video-interviews on two occasions during the year in which travellers were asked about the previous three months.
Their answers enabled the Group to analyze preferences regarding menus, concepts and service models and also measure the importance of sustainability in their spending choices, digitalization and consumers’ differing nutritional needs. Such information is also valuable for the development of the Group’s ESG strategies.
From a socio-demographic viewpoint, it emerged that millennials were the most frequent fliers. Whereas Generation Z travel more often by train. Lastly, Gen X and Millennials make equal use of motorways.
In general, travellers are feeling a strong need to rediscover their pre-pandemic travel experience. Percentages of respondents who have resumed their pre-Covid habit of buying and consuming food & beverages when travelling were as follows: 68% in railway stations and 65% on motorways, whereas the figure drops to 58% in airports. Some travellers are treating themselves even better: at airports, 22% of respondents buy more food and beverages than before the pandemic, while only 16% do so on motorways and in railway stations. This happens more when travellers are satisfied by the quality-price ratio. At the same time, hygiene is playing a vital role, partly because of the pandemic.
Regarding food, consumers continue to prefer foodservice points that satisfy their nutritional needs (from fresh, in-season foods to those with low sugar or low calorie levels), especially in airports and railway stations.
In parallel, digitalization of points of sale was seen to be important. Those that allow travellers to order rapidly and purchase online are preferred at airports and in stations. Further, buying prepacked fast food is a deeply entrenched habit with Gen Zedders, above all on motorways (86%) and less so in railway stations (80%) and airports (77%).
Italy and France are where travellers are most sensitive on sustainability. This influences their purchasing choices: genuine food with good quality ingredients is the priority with sustainability-conscious consumers, followed by safe food, reduction of waste, recycling and personnel working conditions.
Next Normal Travel enabled Autogrill Group to gain an even better understanding of areas of growing importance to consumers – such as digital innovation, sustainability and healthy products – and this will make it possible to develop a new survey providing 360° monitoring of the customer experience.
Starting this year, in fact, the Group will run an annual customer satisfaction survey, multi-channel, in the main countries where it operates, using a set of common questions. Survey results will provide a solid base on which to plan action answering consumers’ real needs at local and global level.