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Travel Consumer Behavior: 2008 vs COVID-19

Christine Ourmières-Widener
Former CEO at Flybe and Member of Board of Governors at IATA

Learning outcomes

  • How consumer behavior changed post-2008 versus an outlook
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Executive Bio

Christine Ourmières-Widener

Former CEO at Flybe and Member of Board of Governors at IATA

Christine was the CEO of Flybe, which was Europe’s largest regional airline, from 2017-19 and has over 30 years experience in the airline industry. She started her in 1988 at Air France before joining Amadeus inu 1992 as Director of Sales and Marketing in Europe for 4 years. In 1998, Christine rejoined Air France as VP, Sales before making her way to General Manager of Air France KLM for UK and then CEO of CityJet, the regional airline subsidiary of Air France KLM. Christine is also on the Board of Governors at the International Air Transport Association. Read more

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Interview Transcript

What is your view on human nature and consumer behavior and when and if that can potentially change? People all say that they’re not going to travel or it’s going to change and it’s changed forever. Then humans, typically, go and do what they used to do. What’s your view on how that could change, post-Covid?

I think that the industry is trying to find a solution to restore confidence. It doesn’t mean that a solution will provide 100% trust, in that there will not be any risk, because it’s impossible to have that when travelling. But that was the case even before the pandemic. When you travel, you take a risk, because you’re not home, you’re in a different country. It’s not only about Covid; it’s about anything that could happen because you are out of your comfort zone. I think people that travel accept that they are taking a risk; it’s something that has always been the case.

Then it’s more about the process or the logistics. How do you get to the airport? How do you go through security? Maybe, making sure that all the players will put measures in place that give more trust and confidence. I think it will be very difficult, for instance, to keep social distancing during flights. I don’t see that as a sustainable measure. But if everybody is wearing masks, then maybe it’s even safer than social distancing. If the masks are the good ones, they will protect everybody, if everybody is wearing them. I think there are some potential solutions that will work and will restore confidence to travelers. They will have to accept – and they already do – that there is always a risk in travelling.

How did you see consumer behavior and demand change, post-2008, post-9/11 and other crises before?

These past crises were very different, because you had an event that was – 9/11 for example – that was a terrorist attack, it was very focused on one city and then it was a really huge crisis, but very limited in time. People were very sad and didn’t really understand what was going on and it was a huge drama, worldwide. But the traffic started again, quite quickly, because the people were looking at a very difficult event, but it was very isolated in one city. The recovery was quite quick.

Here we are now, facing a different situation, where everybody knows somebody who had to face the virus. It’s becoming very personal and that was not exactly the same situation with past crises. When people see that it is something that could really happen in your house, it’s very different.

So a much longer recovery with many more variables to consider?

Also, if you feel a little bit more comfortable travelling again, or maybe you are a bit concerned about if you come back home and you could have the virus with you and that impacts your family. When people think about it, it’s not always about themselves, but also the impact on their loved ones, on their parents, for instance. What could be the effect on your family and friends?

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