How new technology and AI is transforming the travel industry
Mezzo Labs and Tealium hosted digital leaders from the travel sector, to understand more about the impact of new technology on hotels, airlines and travel agents.
On Thursday 21st March, Mezzo Labs and Tealium brought together about 20 thought leaders from the world of travel at the Aqua restaurant in The Shard for a roundtable discussion on the future of the industry. Here’s what we found.
1. What technologies are disrupting travel? Can we compete against them?
Tech is driving a lot of change in the travel sector.
Instant messaging apps mean travellers can become increasingly demanding from online platforms and chatbots are now able to provide services in a timeframe impossible to achieve by humans.
Biometric technologies, such as feature recognition (e.g. electronic passport), are revolutionising the industry by providing faster and more secure procedures. While game-changing brands, such as Uber and Airbnb, are pushing the limits of transportation and hospitality services to alter the way they position themselves.
Virtual Reality reviews – where people can see the atmosphere of a location before parting with any money – are also becoming more prevalent. Is this a new craze? How does this fit into Instagram stories that do not persist and can’t be shared by the brand? Does it matter? Is the reach broad enough for us to worry?
The future of online advertising, in terms of windows and audiences, is set to change. Intelligence Tracking Prevention (ITP 2.1) is causing a range of evolutionary changes in the way companies interact with data. iOS Safari is capping cookies after seven days, leading the path for other browsers to do the same. This limitation in a website owner’s ability to track users across domains could affect attribution modelling.
This could be mitigated by encouraging users to download apps and/or reward login on mobile websites. This would allow for brands to capture more data and use it to tailor a more relevant and improved customer experience. With the abundance of travellers that enjoy loyalty status across various brands, such rewards could be in the form of more points or simply better and more personalised offers.
Another trend that changes the way the travel industry operates are services such as Google Tour Builder and Google Flights. Besides their impact on the travel industry overall, they allow the promotion of products and services to encourage direct purchases.
Many felt that technology enhanced the check-in process, online buying and in-flight experience for customers. But there were some traditional roles where human interaction felt better than robots, such as room service.
2. What technologies are emerging for best-in-class customer experience?
Customers have different needs and expectations when it comes to booking a holiday. At one end, you have people booking bespoke holidays, with long lead times, usually curated by a person (travel agent), right down to an online-only booking platform that helps rental owners fill unused inventory.
Many people want control of the detail. They want to know exactly what’s been booked – when, where and for how much. The agent experience takes some of that control away. Doing a lot of research online makes them feel like they have earned their trip, with an itinerary that best fits their requirements.
This is disrupting the use of agents and tailor-made holidays, even for older generations, where it’s more common to want someone to take care of the logistics of a long-haul, extended trip.
Some comments focussed on the increased use of booking.com to book in advance then cancel at the last minute, which puts business owners at risk of lost revenue. Customers, however, want this flexibility for short weekends away and staycations which are driven by weather, which can’t be predicted.
This flexibility is seen as both a positive and negative in the industry. The aggregation of available hotels means lots of last-minute bookings can be facilitated versus last-minute cancellations on occasions where the property is busy, and demand is high.
For businesses selling accommodation, there was a long discussion about how to compete against Airbnb – how do you find your niche against such a dominant force? One way is to use data to tell you about your existing customers and, therefore, what your other potential customers might look like.
Brands created around micro-niches, such as holidays for dog owners, can be helped by traffic from long-tail searches.
3. What do millennials expect from travel now and in the future?
A fast and seamless customer journey, combined with a personalised experience, plays an important role in winning this group over. Mobile applications and use of facial recognition have become the backbone of quick and convenient travel experience.
As millennials tend to share their experiences with anything from 5 to 15 million people, it’s not surprising that some of the world’s greatest platforms are inviting influencers to stay in 5-star hotels to feature in one of their prized Instagram posts.
This requires big budgets and the overall effectiveness is questionable. Despite one brand gleaning success from this method, some influencers have a rudimentary back office which means tracking links aren’t always implemented properly and campaigns might not land as expected.
Attitudinally, Generation Y is more willing to give away data for value exchange. But baby boomers and older generations are also keen to provide information to gain a satisfactory travel experience.
Respectively, Asian and US markets tend to be more willing to give away data and information than European ones. Some attendees argued the term “millennial buzz seekers” is too narrow. The group of people seeking more exciting and original experiences is expanding, so marketing should focus around personas that are built via understanding preferences, buying habits and browsing behaviour, rather than age group.
Finally, although met with slight distrust, reviews remain a significant factor in the decision-making process of millennials.
4. How does real-time personalisation influence customer decisions?
Unsurprisingly, market-leading brands, like Amazon and Netflix, excel in offering a customised experience to their clients. There is increasing evidence that customers no longer differentiate according to price, but are highly likely to make a purchase in cases when they are acknowledged and recognised as individuals, while receiving relevant recommendations.
The Infosys survey in 2018 concluded that nearly 60% of consumers who experienced a personalised experience said it significantly influenced what they purchased.
Similarly, Accenture claimed in 2016 that around 65% of consumers are likely to buy from a company if they are recognised, remembered and receive relevant recommendations.
However, with the introduction of GDPR and the recent high-profile misuse of data by some major tech firms, it is important to tread carefully not to overstep the line. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware and suspicious of how companies are using data, so it’s imperative that companies are not only responsible, but also relevant, when combining the use of technology, data and artificial intelligence.
Embarking on a personalisation programme in travel is a difficult journey and there are many challenges along the way. Some companies focus too much on creating personas to try to fit their data, overlooking the frequent turnover of those personas and losing a grip on targeting.
However, when done correctly, through rigorous planning and incremental experiments, where companies learn and improve, there are many examples that demonstrate it is possible to surprise and delight customers during their experience.
One challenge to personalisation is identifying and matching researchers with bookers. Is the person booking the same person that has completed all the research? Often one person in the household takes ownership of the research, but another person may then complete the booking. Therefore, the browser history is attributed incorrectly when PII data is provided, e.g. via booking. How do brands ensure they can represent households and differentiate between people within it? This is a hard challenge to crack.
Companies should also look beyond the digital sphere when it comes to personalisation. It is important for them to be able to stitch and share data from across silos of the business. In doing so, different departments can have access to this data and provide seamless and holistic customer experiences across touch-points – from staff at check-in counters or reception desks to in-flight/room entertainment.
Personalisation in travel has enabled cabin crews to relay information to customers and their customer service team in real time for live updates, which enables a better customer experience across touch-points.
5. How do we change organisational culture to embrace data, new tech and new techniques?
A company’s culture has a massive effect on the efficiency of a business. For large corporations, it’s worth starting off small and demonstrating wins. For airlines, where safety is a core value and therefore risk aversion is prevalent, signing off a web experimentation may take a long time, which can potentially result into a missed opportunity and loss of revenue. It is therefore important to demonstrate wins incrementally and embrace new technology slowly, eventually leading to an overall improvement.
Despite lots of talk about the power of data, there was still a focus on manual data capture processes and data being held in disparate Excel files or Google sheets. These systems have grown organically, over time, because they’re quick to set up and flexible. However, it doesn’t take long before these are entrenched systems which seem too complex or expensive to replace. Concerns were raised about data being lost at the press of a button; inefficiency in keeping information up-to-date; leakage in the sales process and GDPR issues.
Scepticism in the use of personal data may lead to people scaling back the amount of information they are willing to share. Regulation has somewhat encouraged with this. However, there is increasing public awareness surrounding data and it is important for consumers – and brands – to understand how valuable their data is and what control they have over it.
Breaking down silos of data is important and allows access across the company to create an improved customer experience, which is the goal. However, data security is paramount as the trade-off for easier accessible data is to ensure that you don’t keep it all in one place.
To learn about how we help travel companies improve customer experience with digital data, please contact us.