The travel industry is one of many business sectors being thoroughly shaken up by so-called “digital disruptors”. The likes of Airbnb and TripAdvisor are digital-first companies using technology to provide new experiences to holidaymakers around the world, without the weight of legacy systems or internal politics holding them back.
Travel brands have an opportunity to use technology to engage customers with relevant content before, during and after their trip — but the industry is still wrestling with how to resource technology and create a seamless customer journey. The complex nature of the travel product, the costs associated with implementing technology and the fact that many stakeholders are involved in delivery — from hotels to airlines and online travel agents — makes it harder to stitch everything together via, for instance, an app.
This was just one of a number of thought-provoking points raised at a panel discussion I was part of in London last month. The event explored research conducted by The BIO Agency into the ‘Connected Traveller’, and I was joined by senior figures from luxury hotel bookers Mr & Mrs Smith, deal-finder Travelzoo, bespoke holiday experience provider SteppesTravel and travel trade body ABTA.
Here are five key opportunities for travel brands, as highlighted by the panel:
Real-time information, such as how many people are in the hotel spa or where the best new restaurants are, would be far more welcome than generic ideas listed on some app services. However, this is difficult to do — companies have to have people on the ground seeking out the authentic, latest pop-up experiences and giving regular updates.
Travelzoo’s European managing director, Richard Singer, said “many hotels cannot handle the technical basics” and cannot relay information about individual rooms or local knowledge for a “virtual concierge” service.
Points and prizes are no longer enough — rewards need to be far more tailored to the individual and helpful in the context of what they are doing at that moment. Apps can be a way of notifying about or delivering rewards in real time.
The complex nature of the travel product, the costs associated with implementing technology and the fact that many stakeholders are involved in delivery — from hotels to airlines and online travel agents — makes it harder to stitch everything together via, for instance, an app.
Customers want to watch video when researching the holiday experience and travel companies are keen to provide this, but it is challenging and costly to supply a constant stream of high-quality, fresh, original content.
Some customers will happily supply personal footage from their trips, but this still has to be edited and formatted. Travel companies have limited budget but the panel agreed the industry en masse may be guilty of choosing to invest in the back-end of booking system platforms rather than inspirational, consumer-facing functionality.
Our study found only 16 per cent of customers expect travel brands to contact them in the weeks after their return from holiday. This is a missed opportunity and a few companies are following up on their customers beyond simply asking for a review or feedback. There is also an opportunity for deeper involvement, possibly linking back to a request for video An estimated ten per cent of Mr & Mrs Smith guests do post feedback and tips which are used on its website.
BOOKING FUNNEL AND AWARENESS
Technology can help with the age-old problem of maintaining regular contact with a customer who many only be looking at booking a holiday once or twice a year. Intent signals can be monitored and then more targeted, personalised messages delivered. However, the size of the customer base dictates how personalised the messages can be.
Tamara Lohan, founder and CTO of Mr & Mrs Smith, said the company “believes in a one-to-one approach rather than clusters”, but Travelzoo, for instance, is operating at a bigger scale so personalising to much larger customer segments. The need for a human voice on the end of a phone is still essential for complex and expensive travel itineraries.