We are delighted to present this special issue on consumer behavior for the Boston Hospitality Review. While Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the hospitality and tourism industry, in many ways, it has fundamentally altered how we think about and go about our lives more generally. Our role as consumers is one such domain. From shopping for all our groceries online to seeking out contactless (often, human-less) hotel and restaurant experiences, the evolving needs of consumers in the Covid-19 era have forced businesses to rethink what it means to operate in today’s world.
While this impact on consumer behavior is undeniable, the reality is that many of these developments in how businesses serve their customers were already in motion even before the pandemic. Tech-enabled experiences, artificial intelligence, building meaningful brand experiences that delight customers or pursuing sustainability as a brand purpose, are all issues that businesses have pursued for several years now. In that sense, Covid-19 has perhaps only hastened the inevitable, as opposed to fundamentally altering consumer reality. This special issue approaches consumer behavior with such a perspective, recognizing that many developments were well under way even before Covid-19, but that the pandemic enhanced the importance of, the practices within, and the implementation of these developments in the hospitality and tourism industry.
The articles in this special issue are truly holistic in their examination of consumer behavior today; they identify and appraise the role of both “tech and touch” in delivering exceptional customer experiences. While the articles by Zhu and colleagues, Choi and Wan, Gibson and Rogers, and Kirillova and colleagues provide timely suggestions around the implementation of artificial intelligence and service robots, virtual reality, augmented reality, and instant messenger (IM) applications for superior customer experiences, those by Hanks and colleagues and Zhang and Wei explore the nuances of customer experience design and management at different stages of the tech-human continuum. Tracey and Houran emphasize the human dimension by showing how enchanted employees and leaders in an organization are the foundation to enchanted customer experiences, while Line and Lu investigate the often-overlooked, non-explicit aspects of service and non-service interactions. Finally, Mody and Hanks round out the conversation by examining how the higher purpose of brands, particularly in a post-Covid world, transcends service and technology, while Gao provides a use case for such a notion by exploring the practice of loyalty reward donation to appeal to the concerned consumer citizen of today. All of these articles discuss the implications of Covid-19 for changing consumer behavior and offer lessons, checklists, questions, and frameworks that hospitality and tourism practitioners of today must consider as we (hopefully) emerge from the throes of a once-in-a-lifetime event.