Digital transformation in travel [Part two]: What it isn't

Digital transformation is a topic which is currently getting a lot of attention across a range of industries. With CIOs saying their key focus this year is driving business innovation, digital transformation is a way to achieve this goal.

Digital transformation has become vital for businesses aiming to expand but also survive. The travel sector, in particular, needs to have digital transformation at the heart of its strategy - with companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Google leveraging data to disrupt this industry, the traditionally established hotels, airlines and travel agents can only thrive if they catch up - and fast.

Research shows 84 per cent of travel businesses already have a digital transformation function in place within their company. However, this impressive figure has translated into digital transformation initiatives with varying degrees of success. With this in mind, what innovations should be adopted and how do these benefit both the business and the customer? With a variety of opportunities available, the travel sector needs to prioritise which innovations are more appropriate to their business, as tick box adoption will fail. After all, what is right for an airline, might not be fit for a metasearch group.

However, getting it right is easier said than done. With an ever-growing range of options available and the idea of 'going digital' being far from a definite science, it's easy for companies to get confused.

Given the current diversity in digital transformation initiatives, it is vital travel businesses understand just delivering the following doesn’t constitute successful digital transformation.

  1. A website

More than ever, travel businesses are improving their online presence. However, even if a company implements a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an online chat function and a mobile app, that’s still not digital transformation. The missing ingredient here is the alignment between all these separate initiatives - the wire that binds them all together in a consistent, effective and seamless customer experience (CX).

Additionally, all these elements have to be aligned with the business model and goals if digital transformation is to achieve growth for the company.

  1. Exclusively online

Many companies focus on transforming their digital presence and creating an enjoyable and seamless experience online, but forget about their bricks and mortar presence. For example, a customer books their hotel online, has a brilliant experience on the hotelier’s website and gets all the information they need. However, they get to the hotel and realise there’s no Wi-Fi and need to queue to check-in, as the hotel doesn’t offer self-check-in kiosks. Is that really digital transformation?

  1. Free Wi-Fi

Today’s customer is very tech-dependant and expect their chosen hotel, airline or travel agency to offer innovation they don’t have access to already. Offering free Wi-Fi in this day and age is like retailers offering free shipping. Research shows it’s expected and considered part of the standard package now, with in-flight Wi-Fi availability influencing the flight selection process for almost two in three fliers. Various airlines are starting to realise this, including Emirates, Norwegian and Air China, who provide free in-flight Wi-Fi. However, if a company offers free Wi-Fi and it turns out it's either poor quality and none of the staff know how to fix it, this can become counter-productive for the CX.

A good example of innovative use of technology is Virgin Atlantic trial of Sony’s Smartwatch 3 in the upper class lounges at London Heathrow airport, enabling staff to start the check-in process and update passengers on the latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination. By investing in wearable technology, these airlines have shown they understand customer needs and are experimenting with the technology available to provide users with the seamless customer experience they’re searching for.

  1. Driving people apart

While many believe technology prevents human interaction, digital transformation is set to do the opposite as it must have the customer at its core. For travel businesses this means personalisation. Digital transformation should allow companies to collect more customer data than they could’ve ever hoped to gather previously.

Digital transformation must then effectively use this data to personalise the CX, so users feel closer to that particular business, even if they’re 2,000 miles apart.

Simon Jones, Co-founder and Head of Innovation at Black Pepper Software

Photo Credit: Djomas/Shutterstock