Constantly undergoing mobility-driven change, the travel industry has played tech chameleon for decades. The primary goal for the latest jet-set tech revolution is better customer experience through personalization. And there’s a full-spectrum palette of digital innovation painting this postcard.
1. Artificial Intelligence (Aka, Digital Concierge)
With the proliferation of DIY booking, online options form thickets of options. In fact, some consumers resort to the manual travel agent process due to the overwhelming online options to score the best deal. But for those who prefer to book their own trips, artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots are working to match the personalization of a travel agent.
Every day more and more data around both consumer and business travel behaviors, preferences, and trends inform AI solutions. Aggregators like Holidayen address the noisy room issue by sifting through all the online options, delivering personalized recommendations on a streamlined platform. Voice assistants continue to grow their presence, becoming valuable, time-saving tools to book flights, check reservations, etc.
Gigabit predicts 70% of all travel bookings will be done on mobile devices in 2020. Nordic Choice Hotels base their entire user experience on smartphones. Their customers’ phones serve as the axis of contact with the hotel, allowing a streamlined check-in experience that doesn’t even involve a stop at the front desk.
A B2B2C Wizard Behind the Screen
From a business standpoint, chatbots help travel industry professionals meet their customers’ needs with solutions supplementing person-to-person contact. Wayblazer, a dynamic travel recommendation engine, is one such product. It leverages natural language to evaluate travel products and destinations.
AI is also helpful to airlines and hospitality brands because it enables dynamic pricing. Smart systems seamlessly integrate individual customer profiles with real-time demand, breaking down the silos between revenue management and CRM.
2. Mobile Apps — Access to Something Special
Drawing on P2P models that began with Uber and Airbnb, some apps hire local experts to deliver itineraries from an insider point of view. Viahero, for example, connects travelers digitally with a local person who lives in their destination area. For a flat fee, the “hero” creates an entirely personalized, individualized itinerary for travelers, including detailed maps and even online or phone support.
These apps offer convenience and efficiency, but the benefits run deeper. The added value is more about personality–fostering belief around that app experience is going to help you make the most out of your destination and experience.
The Cool Cousin app offers a similar service, along with the option for travel agents to partner with the platform, in order to deliver “100% customer personalization.” These services are an interesting P2P disruption of the travel agent role, with the same ultimate goal: to provide highly personal service.
3. AR – Your Stamp on the Real World
Instead of glancing up from your smartphone nav or guide to the inscrutable real world landscape, augmented reality superimposes content on top of your surroundings. The overlaid information shows through the camera lens. But, before long, people will be able to access these augmented views more conveniently, through light-weight AR glasses (Check back late for more updates on those!)
Assigning Meaning to Place
AR offers a variety of experiential opportunities for accommodations, destinations, and points of interest.
- History-based AR apps can show how a building used to look back in the 60s.
- With Microsoft Hololens mixed-reality tech, you can listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech while standing next to the Lincoln Memorial.
- The Skin and Bones app at NYC’s Museum of Natural History lets visitors point their devices at skeletons on display to watch video of the creature when it was alive.
- Airbnb is researching an AR guest handbook feature, where hosts could create augmented reality instructions for household thermostats, appliances, etc.
Apps like Localscope are starting to tap the AR marketing goldmine. Localscope aggregates geotagged data and offers it to show travelers shopping, eating, or tourist site options in their vicinity. Localscope also integrates with over 60 navigation apps, and includes a full range of social sharing options, push notifications, and geotagged reminders.
4. VR – Immerse Before You Invest
AR/VR capabilities promote “try before you buy” retail experiences for clothing, hair styles, makeup, or even furniture. Unlike retail purchases that easily returned if they don’t fit or match your style, it’s a bit more difficult to “take back” a flight to Bali or an all day excursion to Mayan ruins. So the travel industry decided to get in on this solution.
More immersive experiences provide a more sensory preview for potential visitors. These include VR hotel tours, rental car simulations, or engaging experiences related to specific destinations. Virgin Holidays has a storefront in Wales that gives people a virtual reality taste of possible vacation experiences. Realities.io is a startup that offers free VR tours of various destinations for the HTC Vive headset, with content downloadable via Steam.
5. IoT – On-Demand Everything
When suitcases, cars, and hotel rooms are connected, you have a ticket to a round-trip on-demand experience. This includes everything from smart luggage to adjusting hotel room temperature controls to ordering room service. The entire process becomes digital, connected, and more personal.
Moving around is also easier, with P2P car-sharing, city bike-share apps, ride-hailing options from shared vans, and black car luxury. Even traditional car-rental companies are connecting their fleets via IoT, while taxis are trying to make their experience more like a ride-share.
In some places, travelers’ own biometrics are being integrated into smart systems. Marriott China, for example, provides guests with check-in kiosks using facial recognition, delivering room keys directly from the kiosk in less than a minute.
6. Blockchain — Bypassing the Gatekeepers
Decentralized platforms like TravelChain and Windingtree create an open, public blockchain that can be managed by each travel company. The goal is to share reservation information directly, without having to pay a commission to booking giants like Expedia. Previously mentioned Nordic Choice Hotels is experimenting with blockchain, allowing them to better track their customers’ actions and preferences. All in the name of a more personalized experience.
“Our guests’ expectations are not set when they are living at rival hotel chains, but when they are visiting an Apple Store or watching Netflix. We must react to these forward-looking global companies.”
– Lisa Farrar, Chief Digital Officer, Nordic Choice Hotels
7. Alternative Payments — Bookings Without Borders
Establishing trust with international payments is vital for tourism and hospitality. New payment options can better address all participants’ needs within a transaction. Travel organizers and agents use platforms such as WeTravel to accept payments for complex client bookings. WeTravel offers the lowest international exchange rates, and tools to streamline booking management, helping agents provide the best customer experience.
Although currently in the backseat, crypto-currency such as Bitcoin could become a more widespread way of paying international travel expenses because of its security and independence from any nation’s banking system. American Express itemizes numerous advantages of using crypto-currency for companies doing business in more than one country.
Mobility Begets Mobility
US hotel gross bookings grew from $116 billion to $185 billion from 2009 to 2017. Airline revenue jumped from $155 billion to $222 billion. Deloitte notes, “Ten years of travel innovation could be dwarfed in the next three or four years.” Technology solutions (or the enhancements) within travel are about consumer _expectations and delight–_not saving an industry that struggles to stay relevant.
Whatever the “next mobile” may be, you can bet your white robe and towels that tourism and hospitality will be looking to ride that wave. New mobility solutions enable companies in this industry to provide their customers the most personalized, streamlined experience ever. And, for that, they’re willing to travel.