The rise of the technological age has transformed consumer expectations and demands. Regardless of what they are looking for, be it groceries, clothes or a holiday, today’s consumer expects to be able to access the content they want anywhere in the world, and at any time.
The travel industry is no exception. As well as immediate access to content, today’s traveller also expects to be able to manage, and make whatever changes they want to their trip in a safe and secure environment.
The companies and industries that fail to recognise these evolving consumer demands, and implement the necessary technology to meet them, will struggle to survive.
The industry has already migrated online, with digital travel agencies, such as booking.com and Expedia booming, enabling consumers to explore holiday options and make bookings remotely.
While the diversification from physical stores is a step in the right direction, there is more to be done to engage with today’s digital consumer.
The travel industry must now take steps to provide self service capabilities, integrated content, an end-to-end experience, and a personalised service that the consumer finds value in. All while understanding that the cost of what the consumer wants to pay is constantly diminishing and so ensuring these capabilities can be done faster and more effectively through the benefits of automation.
The mobile era has arrived
By June of this year the number of global mobile phone users is expected to surpass five billion, according to GSMA. This number is expected to continue to steadily rise over the next few years, with Ericsson predicting that by 2020, 90% of people over six years old across the world will have a mobile.
As the number of mobile phone users grows, and the devices themselves become increasingly sophisticated, consumers’ ability and willingness to complete the tasks on their phones, that they used to do on their desktops, will rise.
In fact, Travelport’s research has indicated that in five years’ time 70% of traffic to online travel agency (OTA) sites will be from mobiles.
As mobile phones become not just devices for research but the predominant means to pay and manage all activities within their itinerary, travel providers will need to both optimise and expand their services to ensure they are the partner of choice when not only making the initial travel transaction but throughout the entire travel experience.
Choice and aesthetics are king
Thanks to the internet consumers have become accustomed to having and expecting all content to be made immediately available to them when performing any transaction.
Travel is no different and therefore online search providers will need to ensure they have access to the broadest and most current inventory of content across the entire spectrum of travel needs which is not just air but also hotel, car, tours, adventure and more.
Just as important in this new world of the millennials, is ensuring you appeal to a wide range of factors; it is not just about the time of their flights, but who the airline providers are and what planes they fly, what the luggage options are, where their friends are staying and even the environmental records of any of the organisations they are looking to purchase from. All these factors combined will influence today’s purchasing behaviour.
This new world requires travel content providers to differentiate their services in many different ways and to be able to dynamically target their customers based on preferences and aspects of the end to end trip.
Companies such as Skyscanner are already using our rich content and branding capabilities to provide their customers greater fare choice to clients, including deals and up-sells.
This allows them a leg up in an ever-crowded world of choices and for those organisations not yet leveraging and delivering these types of offers it will become incrementally harder to compete in an ever-increasing crowded world of travel offers.
Though choice is king, the more content a business has, the more important it is to display it in a clear, visually-appealing manner to avoid leaving the consumer feeling overwhelmed. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that visually-rich content is highly effective in driving engagement.
Therefore, online travel providers need to differentiate their P2P-generated search content from others doing the same and display it in the most aesthetically-appealing way possible.
Boosting the customer experience through automation
Once you have the right content and the right experience, personalisation is the other key ingredient for today’s travellers. Personalising search results to complement an individual customer’s situation – including where they are in the world, whether they have a family, and their preferred airline provider – is key and demonstrates businesses are aware of, and care about their customer’s preferences.
This inevitably increases customer engagement and loyalty. It’s also already happening in most online transactions consumers are making today and so the expectation is that this will also be provided for their end to end travel experience.
Providing this level of personalisation at the scale that is required can only be done by leveraging technology.
Investing in automation technology, such as machine learning which uses algorithms to determine where consumers will find value, based on their location, language they speak and past purchases, enables brands to connect their products with their customer’s interests and priorities. It also allows for faster response times and experiences, as often what the traveller is looking for has already been calculated.
In the travel space this automation will also go a long way in overcoming many other time-consuming and inefficient complexities that agencies, both online and in-store currently need to manage.
For instance, the ability to enable large groups taking flights from all over the world and then convening in one place, to easily book flights that will arrive at the same time. Or alert passengers on multi-leg flights when connection windows have become tight, or closed entirely, and then offer alternate arrangements and automatically re-book flights and hotels.
Driving this innovation at an affordable cost
As travel volumes, as well as the complexity of managing this increased personalised content continue to increase, automation will be required to provide the scale at an affordable cost, the responsiveness and the sheer interaction that will be generated.
Hence enlisting online chatbots, enabling consumers to ask and receive specific information in a quick, seamless and low cost manner will become more the norm and human engagement will become the bespoke choice.
Certainly, change is ahead for the travel industry. Like their customers, providers will need to embrace technological developments in order to remain relevant and competitive. Investing in application and mobile design, as well as managing the complexity and enhancing the openness of their own content will be critical.
Branded fares, not to mention automation, will be crucial in meeting consumer expectations for quick and easy access to mobile friendly, varied and personalised content.
Beyond keeping up with consumer demands, these changes will be the drivers that will provide their customers a better, differentiated experience and a more meaningful engagement which will drive brand loyalty and success more than ever before.
Matt Minetola, executive vice president technology and global CIO, Travelport