Just like in life, planning ahead is good practice when considering a vacation or trip. Researching and completing bookings well in advance gives travelers peace of mind, keeps them organized, and allows travel agents and tour operators the opportunity to offer additional bookings to complement a customer’s existing itinerary. But the sad fact is the travel industry is prone to unpredictability and cancellations happen.
Weather. Personal struggles. Changes in availability. All these elements factor into why travelers must sometimes postpone, alter, or altogether cancel bookings, accommodations, and tours, and a travel company’s cancellation policy can go a long way toward either enhancing or remedying a traveler’s disappointment.
A travel company’s cancellation policy is subject to interpretation by customers on a number levels from where it appears on a travel company’s website or physical paper documents to the language used in conveying the policy. It may not be a top priority for travel agents or tour operators in an age when digital technology, powerful booking engines, and mobile capability are the talk of the day, but something as simple as how a customer encounters and responds to your cancellation policy can be a critical driver in managing customer relations. It’s often the small things in life - and in the travel business - that can have the greatest impact.
With that mind, here are 4 ways travel companies can update or rethink their cancellation policies to make them more customer-friendly and effective.
1). Use clear, concise, and descriptive language. Obviously, travel companies want to provide as much information as possible in conveying the ins and outs of their cancellation policy, however, the ‘less is more theory’ is actually a value-added proposition when it comes to the language and wording used in the policy. Customers need nothing more than the facts and cluttered wordings can often confuse these facts and leave a traveler feeling frustrated. For example, a sentence such as “reservations can be canceled with no penalties until X date” and “cancellation of the reservation after X date implies a cancellation fee” are essentially saying the same thing, however, the former is more crisp and clean in its delivery.
In addition, making sure to specify the date and amount of cancellation fee should be priority number one in addressing your policy.
2). Reinforce the policy multiple time during the booking process. This is not to say today’s traveler is oblivious or blatantly ignores key information during the booking process; in fact, today’s traveler is more savvy and knowledgeable than any point in recent history. But this is to say travelers don’t place a great priority on the potential of modifying or canceling travel plans when completing them - in their mind, this trip is going to happen without a hitch. As such, it’s important to make sure the traveler has complete visibility of your cancellation policy by reminding them of it at least twice during the booking process. The industry’s most powerful, comprehensive booking engines display a travel company’s policy just before a traveler completes a booking in order to instill the policy in the traveler’s mind as one of the last things they encounter during the booking process.
3). Suggest rescheduling. Just because a customer canceled a booking doesn’t mean they’re no longer interested in that booking; in fact, most cancellations occur simply out of external forces such as weather events or other disruptions the traveler has little to no control over. Deploying a booking engine with the capability to suggest rescheduling or modifying a booking date is a key driver in retaining a customer and promoting a robust customer relations platform where the traveler feels at-home with this and future bookings. As we discussed before, the language used to detail any additional fees or rescheduling should be clean and crisp, and the customer should be made well aware of any restrictions associated with completing a rescheduled booking.
4). Location, location, location. A travel company can have the most clearly, cleanly defined cancellation policy where the associated fees and timetables are spelled out to combat any misinterpretation, however, if this messaging is not placed properly on the website, digital confirmation, and other documentation, there’s no point. Placement of this information is key to ensuring the customer understands the cancellation policy and how it will apply should a cancellation have to be made. As we discussed earlier, displaying this policy multiple times throughout the buying process is key, but also making sure the policy is displayed where the customer expects it also crucial.
Check-out pages, and even separate landing pages are best practice strategies for the placement of cancellation policies to ensure customers have the opportunity to encounter the policy. In addition, check-boxes can go a long way toward making certain customers have read and acknowledged the policy before completing a booking.