LP Maurice, chief executive and co-founder of coach travel booking platform Busbud, discusses how tech is giving consumers more control and better service when they travel
To quote Bob Dylan, ‘the times they are a-changin’. This is particularly true for the travel sector. Over the last decade we have seen the travel industry move from bricks and mortar high-street travel agents to almost entirely online.
Consumer choice and control have been the two dynamics that have underpinned the technology that has revolutionised the sector. In previous years, local, high-street travel agents held all the cards in terms of providing information on the best prices, routes and services.
Similarly, when booking plane tickets, unless you had hours to spare phoning every airline to check prices, you had to assume that the flight you booked was competitively priced.
Now, with online booking, price comparison and meta-search, consumers wield a lot more power. The travel industry has become much more competitive and, thanks to rating sites, service has also improved.
Airline and hotel sectors have borne the brunt of technological innovation – however, the attention of tech entrepreneurs is now squarely fixed on coach and train travel. This is because consumers now expect the same level of transparency and convenience from coach and train operators as they currently get from airlines.
Coach and train travel is also an increasingly popular alternative to air travel as tax and fuel costs have pushed the cost of flights up, security checks have become more time consuming and environmental concerns have increased.
With more travellers turning to coaches and trains, travel tech companies are competing to see who can offer the best and most relevant information, pricing and booking options. Some companies have sought to go down the multi-mode travel route, attempting to provide data on planes, trains and coaches in one search.
The sheer volume of different train and coaches companies operating in this space makes it a daunting task to collect enough information to create complete searches. Other startups, like Busbud, have chosen to focus on one method of travel, with the aim of providing the most complete set of travel and price information to consumers.
As the technology improves, consumers will get used to a more complete experience such as being able to plan their travel from start to finish. Competition between different modes of travel will also increase, as planes will now compete with the convenience and reach of coaches and trains. In the long run, this could lead to improved services and lower prices on all modes of transportation.
With travel becoming increasingly arranged via smartphones and mobile apps, it opens the door to a wealth of innovative travel services. In the future, the norm will be for travel search engines and booking platforms to leverage a device’s GPS and provide tailored travel routes and offers based on current location.
Social media and rating sites like TripAdvisor have raised expectations about what travellers can expect from accommodation, tourist sites and restaurants. Soon, coach and train travel routes will come under the same level of scrutiny, further influencing how consumers choose their means of travel.
Currently, price and travel time are the dominant factors, but other aspects like WiFi availability, the route the coach or train takes and on-board customer service, will play a bigger role.
With more control in the hands of consumers and higher expectations, every player in the travel industry has to raise their game. Train and coach companies are now at the bleeding edge of tech innovation and consequently, the most successful coach and train operators will be the ones that fully embrace the changes this innovation brings about.
This can take the form of making travel data available to tech companies, seeking partnerships with innovative startups and generally improving their service to consumers.