Remember the days when people booked trips through travel agents or by calling an airline or hotel directly? Then the Internet came along, and it completely changed the landscape—and consumer behavior. Suddenly, Web self-service became the norm and travel agents wound up on the endangered list. Airlines, hotels, and tour companies found themselves adapting in ways they never anticipated.
Today it’s clear we’ve entered the era of Travel Tech 2.0: Websites and apps let travelers book flights and hotel rooms at the click of a mouse, board airplanes and check in at hotels electronically, open doors to hotel rooms using digital keys, access car- and bike-sharing services, and more. Meanwhile, radical advances in artificial intelligence and analytics have changed the face of marketing and customer relationships.
The common theme?
“Travel and hospitality leaders are providing their customers with frictionless travel experiences,” said Yutta Shelton, Deloitte Consulting’s hospitality leader, in an interview with CMO.com. “Business and leisure travelers expect to be engaged throughout their journey in a way that is both personal and efficient. Time is precious, and expectations are that the experience will be delightful.”
For airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour companies, and others, opportunities abound to take marketing, sales, and the travel experience to greater heights.
“Travelers now live in a digital world,” said Carlos Garcia, CEO of HYP3R, a firm that offers a location-based marketing platform. “They expect convenience and value. If you deliver it, they can become ambassadors for your brand.”
Make no mistake: Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), geolocation, augmented reality, virtual reality, and more are going mainstream. At the same time, consumer sentiment is changing, said Julie Hoffman, global head of industry strategy and marketing for travel at Adobe. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
“Expectations and behavior—including the way travelers view brands and the ways they deliver value—is being redefined,” she told CMO.com.
A 2019 Adobe survey found that 87% of Millennials—who have emerged as the biggest spenders on travel—look to social media for travel inspiration. Sixty perfect said they will upgrade their experience, and 47% are likely to go to a specific travel brand site to book their next vacation. However, 85% will look at multiple travel sites before booking a trip. Millennials, and their younger Gen Z counterparts, are also likely to use their mobile phones to store boarding passes, they prefer voice-enabled apps, they like virtual and augmented reality features, and they view digital concierge services and two-way chat favorably.
Services that simplify and streamline things are a common denominator. The Adobe research also shows a growing interest in trip-budgeting apps and tools, trip-planning solutions that allow users to book everything in one place, and other apps and tools that capture and organize information and photos while on a trip. At the same time, digital technology is rewiring and redefining relationships. For instance, Airbnb now partners with local guides who deliver unique experiences to travelers. A click of a button books a tour.
Travel companies must tune into these trends—and act on them. “Technology can simplify things and create value by surfacing the relevant information exactly when it’s needed,” Hoffman observed.
Yet, at the same time, the actual day-in and day-out travel activities must be addressed. At a hotel, for example, travelers increasingly expect free Wi-Fi access, an adequate number of outlets and USB ports in rooms, and perhaps even charging pads for smartphones. A growing number of guests also wish to unlock doors and order room service with their smartphones. Meanwhile, a hotel might use connected cameras and sensors to spot food trays in hallways. Other IoT systems can monitor HVAC, security, and other systems.
Social media also plays a role. Instagram and other platforms have emerged as powerful marketing tools that can drive traffic to a property or destination. Some hospitality companies discount rooms or provide perks for those who meet certain posting criteria. Marriott International, for example, tracks public posts from its hotels using geolocation technology. Its system can determine when a guest posts a photo at a property for a birthday or anniversary. Hotel staff may follow up with a bottle of champagne.
“It’s all about providing a personal touch and delivering a delightful experience at the right time,” Garcia explained.
Mapping Out A Strategy
Understanding consumer preferences—and, to a certain extent, generational desires—is at the center of delivering a better travel experience. The Adobe study of travel industry trends found that a solid 97% of Millennials will post their experiences on social media, 70% are comfortable with brands using their data to deliver personalized content, and 83% mostly book through a loyalty program. Yet Gen X and Baby Boomers aren’t exactly luddites. Eighty-one percent of Boomers said travel is an important part of their lives, and 42% rely on a device in-trip or post trip.
The takeaway? Hoffman said travel and hospitality firms must focus on five key areas: context, delivering compelling experiences, anticipating consumer needs, orchestrating experiences across channels and touch points, and constantly raising the bar on experiences through data, analytics, and old-fashioned human ingenuity.
“It’s necessary to democratize data and put it to work across partnerships and partners so that it can be utilized throughout the entire customer journey,” she said.
“Frictionless travel” is the ideal, Deloitte Consulting’s Shelton added. This means understanding customers like never before and using data to deliver the right experience at the right moment.
“Travel companies that are succeeding are using predictive technologies to adapt the way they engage their customers based on their wants and needs throughout the pre-trip process,” she said. “From search to reservation and trip planning, through check-in, the leading travel and hospitality companies are making the buying process seamless by anticipating the specific traveler’s needs and wants.”
Developing such a dynamic and effective feedback loop requires cooperation among CIOs, CMOs, CXOs, and others. Breaking down data silos is paramount. Shelton said it starts with an emphasis on the 3Ds: data, decisioning, and delivery.
“With continued disruption and new tech-savvy workers entering the travel and hospitality industry, legacy companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for the right moment to build more sophisticated systems and deploy innovative technologies,” she explained. “If they haven’t created a true digital experience—providing frictionless travel—they have lost the battle and are a stone’s throw away from losing the war.”
Success also requires an understanding of how to integrate technologies and information into websites, apps, smartwatches, and other devices.
“Integration with wearables is extremely important, particularly when it facilitates simplified payments, tickets, or access. It automates tasks and speeds things up,” Adobe’s Hoffman said.
Digital technology can also add creative, personalized experiences. For example, an app could introduce a virtual reality experience for travelers shopping for trips. An augmented reality app experience could create a breadcrumb trail to help people navigate an airport or resort. A hotel app could allow a guest to tell them how much she loves the pool area, and the staff could proactively reach out and place her in a nearby room or offer her a cabana at a reasonable price.
Ticket To Success
Understanding who someone is and what he or she is interested in requires data, of course. Some of this information can be collected through cookies, purchase records, surveys, and other sources. But today’s technology also opens up new vistas for gleaning travel and lifestyle preferences. For example, geolocation data can provide valuable clues about how guests spend their time and move around at a property or place. For example, HYP3R uses geofencing and other data to tackle location identification and resolution at tens of thousands of resorts, hotels, cruise ships, and casinos. When combined with other data, it’s possible to gain a far more granular view of customers and how they behave.
The end goal for travel and hospitality companies is to connect, merge, and tap data from internal departments as well as across companies and beyond, Hoffman said. It’s also vital to merge physical touch points with digital data points to gain a more complete view of customers at any given moment.
“If you can’t see and understand preferences as well as the customer journey, you can’t establish a close relationship with customers,” she added. “You won’t understand the nuances of how people travel in different situations.”
Thus, getting a true understanding of the travel customer requires an end-to-end view, but how is this possible when data lives with different companies? Creating a more open data network is the aim of the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) and major tech firms, including Adobe. The Open Data Initiative, for example, will allow partner ecosystems to flourish while firms still retain control of their core data. In the meantime, Hoffman said, organizations can benefit by establishing partnerships, such as the one Delta Airlines has with ride-sharing service Lyft in which customers link their SkyMiles and Lyft accounts and earn miles for every U.S. ride.
“This not only creates an incentive to use the two together, it offers a more complete picture about how and where people go, and what types of things they do,” she said.
Deloitte’s Shelton cautioned that in this emerging data-centric world, it’s crucial to consider privacy issues, and personalize marketing and interactions without becoming creepy. Yet the need to think differently and create value for consumers is essential—and the stakes will continue to grow in the years ahead.
“With continued disruption and new tech-savvy entrants into the travel and hospitality industry, legacy companies don’t have a second to waste,” Shelton said.