Travel bosses say they are excited about the opportunities promised by technology in travel, but admit their biggest fears are failing to grasp them quickly enough.
Speaking in a World Travel Leaders debate at World Travel Market, senior executives at four leading firms all agreed that technology was a major focus for their businesses.
Geraldine Calpin, senior vice president of global online at Hilton, said the firm had “a very ambitious agenda”. She said this was based around “more digital and more technology driven by our own agenda but also by where our customers are going”.
Calpin said the international hotel chain was looking to exploit digital to enhance the customers experience not just once guests have arrived but before they arrive.
As well as traditional channels, Calpin said Hilton was also looking at how it uses mobile. “We have 4,200 hotels, so it’s doing that at scale. Customers expect technology to work and they want it everywhere they go.
“When you come out with something new you have to do it rapidly, and at a scale and in multiple languages.
“That’s frankly frightening. You don’t want to take three, four or five years because if you do you are already out of date.”
Johan Lundgren, Tui Travel deputy chief executive, said the technology is here today: “I’m excited about technology and what it will do for the customer experience.
“You want to make sure that you don’t miss one of the opportunities that are out there. We have a slight paranoia about that, and that’s good for a company.”
Geraldine Valenti, senior director solutions group at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, said technology like mobile apps was allowing it to focus more on all the needs of the corporate traveller.
“What excites us is also what keeps us awake. We want to make sure we are ahead of the curve understanding our clients’ needs. Lagging behind is our biggest fear.”
British Airways sees a 13 point increase in customer satisfaction from loyalty scheme customers who, when they first attain silver status are personally congratulated by the purser on board.
“That’s the equivalent of opening a new cabin on board,” Drew Crawley, chief commercial officer, said.
Crawley added the opportunity technology offers is being able to exploit data, not just to sell better but serve customers better and in personal ways they don’t expect.
“We have been talking about personalisation for years. The difference today is that the technology is becoming smarter, cheaper and faster so you can do that at scale.
“To be successful in three decades time you will have to ensure every single person in this room will have a different travel experience.
“That’s true magic and people who deliver that first will create huge value.”