September 26, 2018
This week, the travel industry will be celebrating the United Nations’ annual World Tourism Day (WTD) and this year’s theme is all about “Tourism and Digital Transformation”.
Over the past two decades, developments in technology have played a fundamental role in the growth of the tourism and travel industry. The establishment of OTAs helped to empower tourists – offering them access to a wider selection of travel options at reduced prices – and boosted profits for travel suppliers who found themselves with improved access to a global customer base.
But how will more recent technological advances impact the travel industry? How can new technologies including big data, artificial intelligence and digital platforms be harnessed to boost growth and improve the customer experience?
Getting personal with big data
Given the cost and time-constricted nature of vacations, making travel decisions can prove arduous for travellers – often not helped by the number of options search engines serve.
So how can travel agencies help diminish the effort required to book a holiday? How can they improve the customer experience and make their offerings more meaningful? Big data – and the ability to harvest and store a rich set of transactional, machine and social media – is set to play a huge role in tackling such customer demands. Through the collation of vast swathes of internal and external data relating to a traveller’s previous interactions, behaviours and circumstances, travel agents can gain a much more accurate picture of their customers, and in turn, offer truly personalised travel experiences.
Fostering conversion with Virtual Reality
Alongside big data, virtual reality (VR) is also set to play a more substantial role in the future of travel services. In 2016, as many as 1.5 million units of dedicated VR headsets were shipped, with some finding their way into the hands of travel agencies who are beginning to experiment with the use of VR as a truly immersive ‘try-before-you-buy’ experience.1
Travel agent Matoke Tours, for example, recently invested $30,000 to launch a ‘Virtual Gorilla application’ which allowed users to virtually track gorillas in Uganda.2 According to Matoke Tours owner: “the app enables us to convey the intensity and emotion of the travel experience before the journey has even started”.
Thomas Cook has also began using VR to offer customers the chance to experience destinations like New York in ten of its stores. With the group seeing a 180% uptick in conversions where the headset was used, the power of VR to boost sales on the high street is clear.3
Saving customer time with AI-powered chatbots and voice-activated search
AI-powered chatbots are also set to be a game-changer for the travel industry. Savvy travel brands are now using chatbots to help simplify the booking process, save customer time, and improve the overarching customer experience. Expedia, for example, now has both a Facebook Messenger and Skype bot to help travellers efficiently organise and book their holidays within the safety of their app.
Expedia is also developing voice-activated search capabilities. Using Amazon’s Alexa, Expedia customers can now ask questions about their hotel bookings, flights, loyalty points balance and rental car reservations. Although, customers can’t make a flight or hotel booking through Alexa yet – this functionality is apparently in the works.
Boosting the back-end with innovative payment technology
With so much hype around innovative new technologies and their ability to boost the customer experience, it’s perhaps easy for travel agents to neglect the importance of streamlined back-end processes – such as supplier payments. And yet, cumbersome, outdated supplier payment processes can have a direct impact on customer experience. For example, in the absence of streamlined payment processes, OTAs are forced to allocate significant proportions of employee time to important but repetitive tasks like manual reconciliation.
Innovative B2B payment solutions, such as eNett VANs, automatically generated 16-digit Mastercard virtual account numbers, help to eliminate the pains associated with paying suppliers, integrating with agency workflows, and making the entire payments process quicker, safer, and more efficient. In addition, eNett VANs can have a positive impact on the number of listings travel agencies are able to offer their customers – boosting traveller choice, optionality and empowerment.
The power of tech
Here at eNett, we have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of digital transformation on the travel industry. This World Tourism Day, we are encouraging travel agencies to embrace innovation to keep customers engaged and processes running seamlessly. Join us celebrating World Tourism Day: #WTD2018.