Prepare for the transformation of the travel industry

Today’s digital consumer expects to be able to access content on anything, from anywhere in the world, at any time and that includes the ability to manage their trip safely and securely whenever and however often they choose. The travel industry is no exception to this demand for immediate access to content. To thrive in this “on-demand” environment, all companies, regardless of the industry must understand Technology is the catalyst that is directly impacting a continuous customer demand loop whereby technology enables the consumer with new capabilities which in turn drives the demand for more technology.   

The travel industry, like many others, has already made substantial investments in digital platforms and online booking tools. With online travel agencies, such as Expedia and booking.com growing to become significant market presence, this digital migration is an undeniably positive step. However, it shouldn’t be regarded as a quick, all-inclusive fix for engaging online consumers. Companies must recognise and act upon the demands for a personalised, self-service, end-to-end journey experience.   Whether via traditional high street or online travel agencies, technology connects global travel providers, sellers, developers, and travellers to a world of travel content and choice. If businesses are to serve up much more relevant content to the digital consumer in a way that matches the change in traveller shopping, they need to harness the power of automation.   

Mobiles are taking centre stage   

Mobiles are hardly something new, but their expansion into new territories, adoption by younger and younger age groups, and rapidly improving capabilities mean they are set to become an even greater presence in our lives over the years to come.   

Recent GSMA findings show, the number of global mobile phone users will push past five billion over the next few months. And, Ericsson report, 90 percent of the world’s population over six will have mobile phones by 2020. As the capabilities of these devices improve, consumers will be increasingly able and willing to use their mobiles to complete tasks that were previously confined to computers or laptops. In fact, 70 percent of individuals will be accessing online travel agencies (OTA) from mobiles rather than desktops. 

Mobiles will become the devices of choice for travellers to research their holidays, manage their itineraries, and make payments. Consequently, if travel providers want to become the partner of choice, for travellers’ entire experience, from the initial transaction onwards, it will be crucial for them to expand and optimise their services.   

Consumers can be choosers   

Today’s consumer has acclimated to having all the content they want immediately available to them over the Internet. Travel is no exception. Therefore, if online providers want to ensure consumers choose them, they must provide users with a broad range of up to date content on flights as well as hotels, adventure, cars, tours and more.  The benefits of providing consumers with choices are clear, but there is much less real estate on a mobile screen; customers will only look at 3-4 options versus up to 10 they may look at on a web browser. Mobile can only be harnessed if users don’t find the results overwhelming.   

Making travel sites information rich, visually appealing and easy to navigate is crucial to driving engagement and differentiating one travel provider who is using P2P-generated search content from another. However, mobile users are even more speed conscious than desktop users, so it will be crucial to serve up the right 3-4 options within no more than a couple of seconds. 

The power of automation   

Content is king and no more so than in the digital world. Travel providers must differentiate themselves by providing dynamic pricing and micro segmentation of their offers to a personal level.  Demonstrating an awareness of where your customer is in the world, whether they have a family, their preferred airline provider, and then catering to this knowledge is crucial. As is, rich content and branding capabilities to provide consumers with targeted fare choice, deals and upsells. 

Personalized content lets travellers know that you care about; their preferences, providing them with a holiday that meets all their needs and getting them a great deal, because it speaks to them directly and does not waste their time with irrelevant data. This is now commonplace with most online transactions from consumers’ weekend food shops, to clothes shopping, to music playlists,  travellers are expecting the same experience from their end-to-end travel engagement.   

Delivering personalization on a large scale is simply impossible without leveraging technology. If you want to connect your products with consumers’ interests and priorities you will need to invest in automation technology, namely machine learning. This employs algorithms to ascertain where consumers will find value, based on the language they speak, their location, and previous purchases they have made.   

Automation and recommend systems also improves customer service through faster response times. For instance, if a consumer were to ask how much a flight would cost with x amounts of carry on and hold luggage, an automated chatbot, unlike a human, would be capable of providing the answer in a quick, seamless and low cost manner as it often has pre-calculated and stored the relevant information.      

Similarly, automation will help overcome other time-consuming and inefficient complexities that both storefront and online agencies currently grapple with. For example, recommending flights that enable a large group of people travelling from all around the world to convene in one place at the same time is a relatively complex process for a human to carry out, but easily achieved through automation.  Moreover, on multi-leg flights it isn’t unusual for connection windows to become tight, or even too late to check in. This is understandably a highly stressful situation for the traveller. Being able to offer alternative arrangements and automatically re-book flights and hotel reservations in a timely manner will not only ease the worry, but ensure you are remembered as a reliable provider. Increasing the likelihood, they will travel with you again in the future.   

Central to both of our previous examples was the role of machine learning automation over human engagement. As the complexity of managing personalized content increases, automated chatbots will become ever more central to delivering specific information.   

If travel providers want to differentiate themselves from others in the new digital age, and ultimately remain relevant and competitive, it will become increasingly crucial for them to embrace the technological developments that their consumers, customers, and partners are expecting and already invested in. Digital and personalisation will be key for the travel industry in the years to come. Only those travel players capable of taking advantage of the automation technology available to them to deliver a broad range of up to date, personalised content throughout every stage of the traveller’s journey will succeed. 

Matt Minetola, Executive Vice President Technology and Global CIO, Travelport 

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