Karan Rao, Senior Consultant and Program Director of Travel, Transportation and Hospitality at Mindtree, says travel providers should consider adopting an agile approach in order to keep up with traveller demand in the modern era.
Over the last two decades, travel has completely changed. International travel, once considered a luxury is now common. Travel planning that was once the forte of specialised agents is now available through digital technologies via apps and virtual agents. Families that went on holidays once a year at most are taking multiple trips a year and even business trips are turning into leisurely experiences. All of this is due to democratisation of travel planning and purchase – travellers are now able to curate their own travel plans, therefore getting more demanding and more loyal if their expectations are met. A 2018 Mindtree travel survey, shares more details on what lies between the expectations of the modern traveller and the reality of what is being delivered to them by travel brands.
Today’s traveller is empowered and they view the travel experience holistically. They demand high-quality experiences, competitive pricing across the value chain and expect to be recognised and responded to in real-time according to their preferences or concerns.
Travel companies are continually rising to the challenge; however, the bar is continuing to rise. They are not competing with their peers anymore, they are competing with every other company – whether it is a retailer or a bank. The consumer does not differentiate and expects the best from their travel providers.
We are now in the experience economy, where customers are looking for experiences and expect instant service. Millennials make up the largest travel-spending segment and this includes the sphere of business and leisure. Travellers have raised their expectations due to the technology advancements taking place which are enabling improved services around the world.
Customer behaviour and needs are changing dynamically. What’s even more challenging is these dynamic changes also vary based on the context, such as the purpose of travel, time and duration, device, urgency and situation. Finding intelligent insights can improve holiday experience and are vital to keeping up with the today’s travellers.
Engaging travellers by implementing digital platforms
Organisations can work to better serve travellers by providing uniform experiences across communication channels – whether it is apps, text or voice. We need to be able to reach the customer on a medium that is most appropriate to the context. An individual may be travelling for business or leisure, alone or with others – regardless, the modern consumer expects more value from their travel providers. They want personalised offers and deals, partnerships which give them value across the industry (membership programmes), online reviews which offer them insight from their like-minded peers, as well as remedial action after a negative experience and more.
One of the challenges that comes with attempting to bridge the personalisation gap is how various organisations in the travel industry are hampered by the significant investments they made previously in legacy systems and software. These systems have created silos of data and there is not one central location for reservation and distribution channels to bring together their rich data which would, in turn, be able to build a customer persona. To work towards the goal of developing this capability, digital strategies are being implemented throughout the industry.
Other developing digital technologies travel brands can engage travellers with are new mobile-supporting technology such as Augmented or Virtual Reality (AR/VR). One way AR can be used is to augment a travellers’ research process. Imagine being able to virtually experience a Safari game drive through the Serengeti or the actual city of ‘King’s Landing’ from Game of Thrones in Croatia. The immersive and virtually tangible experiences of AR, can influence the decision someone is making in favour of a certain place or experience.
Creating omnichannel experiences are also imperative. Omnichannel is a cross-channel content strategy organisations use to improve their user experience. To break the silos between devices and channels to make a connected experience, accelerate decision-making and ensure travellers make it to the final booking, having a seamless omnichannel experience can lead to the immense growth opportunity.
Seamless ecosystem integration for the traveller
Good experiences are central to a memorable holiday or business trip. This is why technology is being used to focus on the entire customer journey and experience. Personalising experiences through the integration of data is key to better targeting and being able to provide contextually aware experiences across channels. There is a growing need to think beyond just selling one seat on a plane or a single stay in a hotel.
For organisations to get closer to customers, they must evolve to deliver exceptional and differentiated services which can convert a one-time passenger or guest into a loyal customer who experiences your services repeatedly.
If a travel organisation can provide dynamic offerings at each point of the travel experience, they will have the increased ability to encourage purchases. Right now, there isn’t a large amount of sharing taking place on preference data across partners of travel providers. Still, customers have made it clear there is a growing demand for the industry’s ecosystem to become streamlined and connected.
According to the Mindtree Connected Traveller survey, 77% of respondents agree when it comes to the ideal travel experience, a travel provider that can offer an entire travel product line in one place would encourage them to make a purchase. One way for organisations to implement this is by having an Open API approach to aid in creating this connected ecosystem.
AI is re-imagining the future of travel
Transforming core systems by modernising reservation and property management systems helps organisations stay competitive. One industry which has always been leading technology adoption is the travel industry, particularly when it comes to digital technology trends. Travellers have also been keen and willing to adopt to the technological changes which are making travel simpler and more enjoyable.
This has propelled the amount of innovation which has gone into creating products and business models that have led to the likes of Airbnb and Uber. Before it became the primary channel for all industries and organisations to reach customers, the travel industry welcomed the era of websites with airlines and hotels being the front-runners to having an online presence. Then as we gradually progressed into the era of smartphones, mixed with the social media craze, the industry quickly worked to take a mobile-first approach in a bid to be everywhere and contactable at all times.
We have now reached another stage in the technological evolution of the travel industry – the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Those working in the industry are adopting an AI-first approach as the new winning factor in the battle to derive intelligent insights which can improve the holiday experience. AI is being used to predict travel choices, personalise services, complete bookings and manage in-trip and post-trip needs.
The future of intelligent holiday experiences
A travel organisation’s ability to completely unbundle its own inventory, as well as their partner inventory, and effectively personalise and target offers, will help them grab the extra premium from today’s connected travellers. Providers should now understand the investment they make in technology to have better customer profiling or creating that extra layer of immersive experiences on top of the basic product they sell, this is where they will derive value for their overall business.
Many substantial changes to the way travel is managed and delivered can come through the implementation of new age technology such as AI. Automation can reduce the time taken to complete tasks while improving the accuracy of processes and outcomes. In an industry where whoever reaches the customer first and gets the deal done quickest is critical and information is continually changing. These are invaluable capabilities.
To keep up with the demands of the 21st century traveller, airlines, hotels and all those organisations related to the travel industry are using technology to gain a competitive advantage to combat the pressures they face. This includes new market requirements, industry consolidation and other unexpected developments such as new regulations. To cope with the data deluge and deliver to traveller demands, travel providers should consider adopting an agile approach so they can provide quick responses to these changing conditions.