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‘High Touch’ businesses adapting to the ‘Low Touch’ future

By Paula Newby

The current state of the global economy has been described as ‘low touch’, as businesses incorporate required social distancing into their operations.

Meanwhile, the ‘high touch’ sectors such as hospitality and airlines are suffering massive losses, and given that social distancing restrictions are likely to remain for some time, finding new forms of engaging customers will be critical for the survival and success of these susceptible industries.

By exploring new strategies, we offer insight into how creative and adaptive solutions can make the shift from high to low touch.

High Touch industries being affected

Events the world over have been cancelled, wherein China and Hong Kong alone, the cancellation of events between January and April has resulted in a $286 million loss [1]. Attractions and hotels are all suffering, and Disney, with their ever-popular theme parks, has reported a loss of $1.4 billion last quarter – a 91% fall in earnings [2].

Jobs in the tourism industry are haemorrhaging, with the World Economic Forum estimating around 50-million job losses from tourism worldwide [3]. Hotels are also seeing huge drops in revenue, with India expecting around a $1.3 billion loss for 2020 – equating to a drop of 30% in revenue compare to last year [4]. Whilst the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is forecasting a loss of $252 billion in revenue – 44% of 2019 revenue – for the industry as a whole.

How can these industries adapt?

Despite these challenges, the resilience and agility that some companies have already demonstrated to changing markets could offer solutions and strategies to traditional high touch operational methods.

Using Virtual Reality (VR) for immersive engagement

Success in business frequently requires engagement with a company’s product/service, and with limitations (or complete restriction) for consumers being physically present; firms must find new was to engage with their clients to ensure survival.

For parts of the hospitality and events industry, we have seen the rise of Virtual Reality (VR) supporting a remote provision of services to keep customer engagement during this pandemic.

From wine tours in Napa Valley, to Glenfiddich whisky tours and tasting sessions [5], leveraging VR technology can provide a more immersive customer experience.

The whisky industry is the largest single food and drink sector for the UK, which generates £3.3 billion directly to GDP, with 20% of all tourists visiting a whisky distillery during a holiday to Scotland [6]. Historically, engagement is key for distillery sales, with research suggesting a 400% increase in sales when visits include a tasting experience, compared to those that weren’t [7]. By providing VR whisky tours, distilleries can hope to engage consumers with the process remotely, offering tasting sessions from the comfort of a controlled space. By way of proof, Virtual Glenfiddich tours have been successfully engaging customers with their product in duty free outlets in airports since 2016 [14].

When the now defunct travel company Thomas Cook offered an immersive VR experience of destinations such as Egypt, Singapore and New York through use of a headset, there was a 190% uplift to destinations like New York after trying a virtual 5-minute tour of the city [8].

A similar approach is being used with concerts. Many artists and event companies are hosting virtual concerts and festivals as an adaptive way of delivering performances to meet low-touch requirements.

A notable success in this space was rapper Travis Scott, who performed a 10-minute set incorporating a giant version of himself into the highly popular gaming platform ‘Fortnite’, attracting more than 12 million players to the ‘concert’. Travis Scott’s new single ‘THE SCOTTS’, which was part of the concert, subsequently catapulted straight to no.1 on the billboard top 100 charts [9].

Novel strategies in marketing

To help offset the drop in hotel demand, a ‘buy now, stay later’ initiative is being offered by Lion & Lamb communications, where over 30 hotels across the world are offering hotel ‘bonds’ to supportive patrons [10]. The premise is simple: guests can buy a bond in a hotel chain, and in 60 days the value of their bond will increase – e.g. if a $100 bond is purchased today, in 60 days that bond will be worth $150. This incentivises guests to buy credit in their favourite hotels, giving them the option to use the service at their preferred time, whilst generating much-needed cash-flow for the hotel.

Hyundai recently offered purchasers of their cars a 6-month break in payments as a token gesture of goodwill both to help customers, but also to symbolise their sympathy to the situation [11]. This built loyalty with existing customers, whilst sending out a powerful message of a company that cares, to potential customers.

In China, selected delivery platforms are displaying the temperature of the delivery rider during journeys, providing reassurance to concerned consumers [12].

Despite the obvious challenges, low-cost airline ‘Whizz Air’ plan to restart flights from the UK in July to Portugal and Greece, but will remove in-flight magazines, require customers and crew to wear masks, and enforce social distancing measures leaving middle seats unoccupied [13].

Leveraged properly, these strategies can not only keep consumers engaged and drive loyalty, but also offer differentiation as brands demonstrate alignment of their values with consumer concerns.


The current situation is forcing a whole host of industries to adapt their existing operations to accommodate the changes in demand, and customer engagement.

VR experiences can help create an immersive experience to stimulate demand despite an inability to travel to a location, shown by Virtual Glenfiddich tours which have been operating in airports as a form of engaging customers with their product for some years, and Thomas Cook was offering VR well before flights and tourism had been affected by the global pandemic. However, as people demand more and more personalisation in service through the use of Ai15, the success of these VR-enabled approaches will likely be increasingly adopted by similar industries.

Moreover, offering bonds in a business can be a fantastic approach to maintain customer loyalty, increase spending, and reduce churn to competitors and could be stretched to many industries.

Furthermore, the success of virtual concerts has sent a clear message to the music industry, and may become part of the standard promotional practice in the future.

Finally, seizing the opportunity to appeal to customer sentiment and concerns can be an excellent strategy for highlighting that a company cares for their customers, and drive competitive differentiation and brand loyalty.

Novel customer engagement approaches have been tested by these industries before low touch measures were implemented, yet their use and demonstrable value have never been more applicable than now.

The high touch approach may return once confidence is restored, but in the meantime, such creative low touch alternative solutions will need to be adopted, if these industries are to grow and survive.

Paula Newby is CEO of PREDIXA

PREDIXA helps business leaders make more effective strategic decisions by rapidly analysing their own organisation and pinpointing key issues for remediation using its powerful AI-based Dynamix suite of business applications for predictive analysis.

[6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]


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