By Maria McCann, senior marketing manager at Acquia
Have you checked in with a smartphone or Apple Watch at Starwood and Hilton hotels?
Have you booked your next holiday through the world’s biggest travel agent, Expedia, chosen your leisure activities on a cruise with a Princess Cruises app or ‘lived like a local’ after booking accommodation with web innovator Airbnb?
All of these digital experiences are available today and are creating exciting ways to choose and enjoy travelling.
In the midst of this change comes a challenge: finding effective and cost-efficient digital solutions to gain the loyalty of choosy, price-conscious, tech-savvy customers who want to create an experience that feels totally unique.
As a result, travel companies of all kinds are having to invest and adapt continuously, shaking up their marketing, sales channels and supporting technologies.
Worldwide online travel sales are forecast to reach $523 billion by 2016 (up from $340 billion in 2011 ) and in 2014 online travel bookings accounted for 43% of total travel sales in Europe. We anticipate that this will rise rapidly.
So how are consumers driving change? Most are still more likely to browse by smartphone – during work downtime like a commute or lunch break – and then make the final decision on a laptop or desktop, probably at home.
A recent report by Amadeus, called ‘Future Traveller Tribes 2030: Building a more rewarding journey’ highlights the two research and sales channels maturing:
• ‘Inspiration’ channels using smartphone, tablet, virtual reality headsets which offer immersive experiences to aid the travel research process.
• ‘Information’ channels like smartwatches, service robots and augmented reality glasses to aid short tasks like hailing a taxi or scanning boarding passes.
It’s exciting to look into the future, but we have to be mindful of what’s happening today.
Consumers expect an excellent deal as well as highly complex search, navigation, review and filter capabilities and functions that simply and quickly return truly relevant results based on their criteria.
Above all they want highly personalised experiences, based on previous trips, dreams for the upcoming one and their budget.
We all know the important part that personalisation can play in our businesses today. The concept has gone beyond digital and marketing disciplines and is now often understood and prioritised by colleagues in operations and strategy too.
It’s done by leveraging both the behavioural and situational patterns of the customer as well as their real-time actions to ensure what they view on the website is relevant to them.
However, the time has come to take personalisation a step further. Contextualisation enriches the experience, looking at not just the content customers engage with or what they buy, but when and why they did so.
Contextualisation helps brands to understand where their customers are in their journey and uses this insight to personalise the digital experience across all touch points from web to e-mail to social.
Brands should use contextualisation to help them generate a rich, integrated customer view by storing behavioural, situational and any other data to a progressive profile that continues to aggregate information over time.
Supporting the consumer every step of the way starts with prompting destination choices based on their online behaviour and research. Then travel planning can start with ‘don’t forget’ checklists, weather forecasts, destination guides, transfers and insurance options and apps to download.
After that come mobile airport guides, maps, language guides, foreign currency calculators and intelligence from social media based at the destination. Finally, once home, customers can upload photos on Instagram to win a prize and, through integrated apps, can review their transport and accommodation.
Combining the myriad of contextual knowledge and technical capabilities with geo-targeting – a way to locate a website user and return relevant content based on their location – is the holy grail to delivering bespoke, relevant data and services.
A practical example of this involves sourcing live data from air traffic control and/or airports, allowing business travel management companies to book alternative flights and accommodation with details delivered via an app, should there be changes, delays or cancellations.
Another practical application would be providing special offers to consumers based on where they’re travelling to – from airplane seats to guest lounge passes and car rental options and from room upgrades to room service orders on arrival.
In the customer journey, using and analysing data gathered in real-time and historically in the research, conversion and post-purchase (long-term) stages are all crucial and require separate and dedicated, iterative attention.
It’s then that a contextualised experience can be offered seamlessly – something which will build digital experiences to truly exceed customer expectations in the travel sector.