By Peter Veash, chief executive, The BIO Agency
The London weather outside was typically bleak; grey skies and pockets of rain providing the ideal backdrop for a two-day event looking at what technology will help holidaymakers plan their next escape.
Trip Advisor kicked off Travel Tech Europe 2015 with a keynote that set the scene, a global survey shows that 71% see ‘enhancing perspective’ as the main driver behind travel.
Technology enables travel providers to help their customers achieve this goal, but there are challenges that the industry faces – from the use of data, to the question of how and when customers want to use tech.
Adobe presented stats on the second day that showed $4.2billion was spent on travel/hospitality technology in 2014 and that this will grow to over $6billion next year. That is a lot of investment, but innovation doesn’t come easy; there have been plenty of failures.
Companies like Uber, Expedia and AirBnB were on everyone’s lips when talking about disruptors who are shaking up the travel market. Success was deemed to be a result of the fact that they offer a direct response to what customers actually want, and are using technology to provide great customer experiences.
The combination of matching customer needs with slick user experience is what new digital-first disruptors excel at, the incumbents in the travel sector should be looking to learn from this.
How customers plan and book is a prime example of industry-consumer disconnect. TripAdvisor showed the split of how customers researched their holidays: 66% online, 24% offline and only 4% mobile.
Our own findings from a survey of 2,000 UK holidaymakers, as part of our Connected Customers report, showed just 7% of consumers using mobile to research and book holidays, compared with 63% using desktop computers.
Mobile is a massive growth area. Looking around at the delegates and exhibitors happily taking selfies in front of stands and tapping away at their screens, it rings clear that the travel industry needs to be much more effective on harnessing the potential of a platform that we all use, everyday – especially on holiday.
TripAdvisor have been doing a lot more with mobile, creating a better experience through their main app, and also launching their mobile city guides. Over half of TripAdvisor traffic last year was through mobile devices, and with 55% of households now having a tablet, mobile will be critical to travel providers moving forward.
Alongside mobile, ‘Big data’ was a big buzz word at the two-day event. It was discussed extensively, and travel brands are really only scratching the surface with what they could do.
There is great potential to offer services that are seen as valuable to the customer, and in return get access to personal data which helps travel providers drive increased personalisation and customisation. In our research, 20% overall found it ‘desirable’ or ‘highly desirable’ to share personal data in this respect.
Personal data is a valuable currency and travel companies must offer value in order for customers to agree to a trade-off. It is worth noting that among the much-coveted millennial customer generation, there is a much higher desire for trading personal data for value; over 25% of 18-30s were happy to share personal info in this regard.
There is an element of educating older customers to establish trust in services and the use of data, as 88% of the 61-plus group were more wary of sharing their data.
Better use of data and online systems can also benefit travel providers’ businesses. Data Portcullis won the Disrupt pitches, and its service helps travel companies guard against unapproved aggregator sites that show price comparisons.
There is a massive opportunity for following the customer journey with in-resort promotion and connections with customers, as outlined in the great ‘The consumer journey doesn’t end at the airport’ session.
Consumers plan their days’ activities when they are there, so staying relevant to them while they are on holiday is the new gold rush.
Location will become ever more important, pinpointing where people are from the airport to resort, and offering tailored communications.
Right now, there isn’t one brand or company which has the full picture, or a seamless overview – the closest to this was mentioned as being Facebook, with its ‘check-in’ meaning that the company knows where you are, have been, and where you are travelling to. The single view of the customer journey is what the sector is ultimately looking for, but it is uncertain who will end up owning this.
‘What technology will the future traveller use?’ provided the ‘wow’ moment, with demonstrations of Virtual Reality and wearable drones. It seems that these days, no trade show would be complete without either of these.
In our own research, VR for researching holiday destinations was definitely a growing area of interest, with 37% wanting a virtual reality resort tour. Flashy tech can also detract from whole holiday experience; travellers need to see the value of it – it can’t just be for the tech’s sake.
The ‘Travel Technology Roadmap’ session on Day Two was a great overview of where we are so far, and what customers really want is tech that will help them to save money and get a seamless user experience, not a series of fragmented touch points.
In our research, the most popular way that technology could enhance travel is by saving customers money (47%), notably higher than the desire for a more personalised experience (27%).
The travel sector is very price driven and consumers shop around for the best prices, which is the biggest cause of basket abandonment on travel websites.
In this respect, the point was made that the travel industry could learn from the retail sector, where tech is used to engage with customers and drive them through to purchase, and also bring online and offline together – offering both seamless user experience and value-for-money solutions.
Travel providers need to change how they think about their customers and align their digital offering with the way that people truly want to use technology.
Some hotels are embracing technology, such as using drones for photography for their websites, offering potential customers a different perspective.
There are some innovative brands out there willing to try new things, and this should be encouraged. It pays off, too; the hotels have seen conversion-to-bookings increase by over 20%.
The discussions at TTE show that the industry is learning and making good progress but travel companies need to keep innovating to attract and keep customers.