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How To Chart A Smoother Course For Travel

Looking at these trends, it becomes clear that they reinforce and enable others. They go together so well that they could be seen as four components of a singular megatrend.

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Successful digital travel transformation requires an understanding of the customer’s desires and expectations. Though some destinations go in or out of vogue, certain trends show no signs of abating as we kick off a new decade.

Travellers have consistently reported valuing particular types of experiences: authentic, personalised, interactive and connected. For instance, according to Resonance’s Future of Millennial Travel report, 60 percent of travellers want authentic and personalised experiences, 54 percent want interactive experiences throughout their trips, 70 percent want digital services customised to their preferences and 63 percent want to share their journeys over social media. 

Businesses in travel and hospitality can thrive by using interactive technologies to connect customers with authentic experiences that are personalised:

  • Authenticity requires preserving traditional hospitality in the digital space.
  • Personalisation requires a delicate touch that does not overextend. 
  • Connection requires identifying friction in the customer’s journey. 
  • Interactivity requires truly responsive virtual assistants and interfaces.

Overall, the travel industry can improve the customer’s experience by basing their real-world and digital solutions on the following values.

The core of the hospitality industry is building a personal connection with the guest

The core notion of hospitality is built around an authentic interaction and conversation between a travel brand and its guest. As we enter 2020, digital is enabling travel brands to interact in ways that have never been done before. What sets great brands apart is bringing the central concept of authenticity and hospitality to each interaction along their travel journey.

A great example is The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, who have attracted attention for localizing their properties. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all, standardised hotels. Nowadays, hotels draw culinary, architectural and cultural inspiration from the surrounding city to create authentic guest experiences. Ritz-Carlton’s emphasis on authenticity has been recognized, celebrated and emulated by others in the travel and hospitality industry.

Personalise Offerings

There is an opportunity for airlines to incorporate greater personalisation for the in-flight experience, such as entertainment options.

When do airlines have somebody’s attention? When they’re considering a trip, booking the trip, on their way to the airport, in the airport, on the plane and disembarking. At that point, they’re done. That’s a pretty long timeframe. The only place they haven’t been able to personalise is on the flight when they’re physically sitting in the seat.

Successful personalisation requires several elements: content because what you’re going to personalise will be information (whether text or audio-visual), relevant data to determine which information should be presented or withheld, artificial intelligence and machine learning to scale this capability, and technology that is flexible enough to accommodate different experiences across various interfaces.

However, personalisation needs to be tempered with restraint and transparency. Personalisation can have a really big impact, but there is a thin line to toe; if you take it too far your brand can look like it’s surveilling its customer base. So, how do you leverage data in the most impactful way to be authentic and transparent, to drive that customer interaction connected across those experiences? That balance is important.

Connect the Parts

The exponential increase in commercial flights means more people are travelling and staying in new places than ever before. Whether for business or leisure, travel holds the potential to significantly change the way individuals view the world, its borders and boundaries. It can nurture global thinking.

Unfortunately, the customer journey is inherently disconnected and can create unnecessary friction. Planes, trains and automobiles are rarely integrated services. If you consider the end-to-end journey from the airport, to taxi, to the hotel, it is full of friction. There’s a lot of opportunities to make this seamless and connected.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are trying to connect these various services. But traditional businesses in the travel and hospitality industry are also taking steps to address this friction. For example, Marriott International and United Airlines created a complementary baggage delivery service for business-class customers on flights between London Heathrow and Newark Liberty.

Then there’s the smartphone and social media aspect to holidays. Tourists have come to expect being as connected to the digital world as they are back home and sharing their adventures online.

Customer surveys suggest businesses could improve their experiences by keeping them connected to the outside world through easily accessed wireless internet and reachable charging stations for their smartphones. In a Lightspeed/Mintel survey of diners at casual restaurants, participants expressed more concern for free Wi-Fi and the ability to charge electronic devices when deciding where to eat over improving the meal experience digitally. This isn’t to say that the actual dining experience cannot or should not be improved – it can and should. But sometimes impactful solutions are refreshingly simple. By and large, people want to stay connected.

Set Interactive Experiences

The two-way flow of information between customers and digital solutions enables the experiences outlined above. Travellers can connect and personalise their trips through interactive services.

Digital experiences today are predefined, self-service, engagements. But virtual assistants are expanding the scope of what’s possible in these digital interactions. Guided voice assistants are revolutionising how we interact with digital information by combining conversational guidance, and graphical information, with a touch interface. These virtual assistants make it much easier for customers to access information in a fun, informal way. They no longer need to thumb through lengthy brochures or skim through irrelevant information to figure out what they need right now.

Hoteliers could learn about the power of interactive technology at every step of the journey from the elaborate sales process for Palazzo del Sol, a luxury condominium development on Fisher Island near Miami.

Before visiting the property, prospective residents can access an invite-only website with views of the island and an iPad chuck-full of sleek photography and information. But the on-site “island immersion room” creates a truly interactive experience. Its touch-screen table and high-definition video walls that showcase the benefits of calling Palazzo del Sol home.

Looking at these trends, it becomes clear that they reinforce and enable others. They go together so well that they could be seen as four components of a singular megatrend.

If you are personalising, you have to come across as authentic, what you are sharing must be interactive because you’re trying to drive action and if it’s disconnected you’re negatively impacting the customer experience. Making it connected, ensures you are tying it all together.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dan Lubetsky

The author is Senior Director, Customer Experience and Innovation at Publicis Sapient

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