2020 will go down in the memory for many things, very few of them positive. But for the travel industry, once we’ve sorted through the debris of a simply terrible year and seen who’s still standing, it may come to be remembered as the year the industry – at all levels – finally got serious about digital transformation. Once the preserve of industry giants with big budgets, digital transformation is now within the reach of even the smallest travel business, with basic tools cheap to buy and easy to implement. In this post we take a look at five digital trends travel companies need to follow to get that increasingly essential competitive edge…
Personalisation in travel has been much talked about in the last few years, but has previously only really been feasible for either large, tech-savvy enterprises, or small companies with a niche product and a small client database. It’s been all but impossible for most travel businesses to implement at scale.
Not any more. Anyone with access to a free CRM and email marketing solution (Hubspot or Mailchimp for example) can segment their lists and send out highly personalised marketing content; whilst smart booking solutions enable consultants – and travellers themselves – to quickly build complex itineraries based on their travel preferences and previous booking habits.
Personalisation is now becoming so widespread in other industries that we no longer desire it; we expect it. Think about the ads you see on Facebook; think about the daily news digest you read on Feedly; think about the promotions you get from your food delivery app. Personalisation is everywhere, and so your business needs to implement solutions that enable you to personalise your travel offerings.
Tripadvisor was one of the first digital game-changers in the travel industry, and now few travellers would book a hotel or use a tour operator/travel agent without first checking online reviews. I was in Hanoi for a few days last year – it was my first visit for almost a decade, and I noticed that the locals were treating foreign visitors with a lot more honesty and courtesy than they used to. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who runs a DMC there, and he said “Yes – Tripadvisor! They’re all terrified of bad reviews, and the Grab drivers are terrified of not getting 5* ratings, so they’ve totally changed their attitude”. Digital transformation in action!
Reputation management should be a key factor in any travel business’s digital strategy and, following various COVID-19 refund scandals, trust in the industry is at a low. So it’s essential for businesses to constantly monitor their online reviews using reputation management tools, whilst encouraging clients to leave positive reviews and incentivising staff in all areas of the business to make sure they do so.
The Connected Traveller
The huge growth in mobile access, the demise of high roaming fees and the increasing digitisation of travl, from passports to hotel check-ins, means the age of the connected traveller is finally upon us. We increasingly expect to have internet access – and not have to pay excessively for it – wherever and whenever we travel. We use our phones to research and book our trips, to check in at the airport and at the hotel, to find our way around our destination, to look for interesting attractions and restaurants, to book our taxi back to the airport, and to leave reviews when we get home.
Travel companies need to make sure their websites and booking tools are mobile-friendly, and have online support channels open for travellers when they’re on their trips – and they need to have the tools in place to harvest, collate and learn from the behavioural data those channels generate. Which brings us onto…
Data & Analytics
One of the biggest boons of digital transformation is the ability to easily harvest and analyse customer data – something that was once only possible by using expensive consultants or data mining software. Nowadays it’s easy to connect your website to your CRM and to Google Analytics to monitor and record customer behaviour on your website and social media channels, and use that data to drive personalised marketing campaigns; and it’s easy to use your booking solution, mobile itinerary app and online reviews to learn about customer preferences and use it to drive product development.
Build-test-learn-optimise was once the mantra of tech startups, but with ease of access to analytics, it’s a philosophy that travel businesses should now be adopting when it comes to marketing and product.
AI & Chatbots
When we find ourselves discussing artificial intelligence and bots, we know the future really has arrived, and what was once science fiction is now reality for an increasing number of travel businesses. Hotels are increasingly using chatbots to handle common guest interactions (ordering room service for example), whilst travel websites use chatbots to answer frequent queries. And when done well, chatbots can really help your business – a 2019 Usabilla report found that 54% of people found using a chatbot quicker and more efficient than chatting to a real person.
And travel businesses are increasingly using AI to power search results and itinerary creation, to offer trips based on customer preferences, previous activity, seasonality and available products, meaning that an itinerary that may once have taken hours or even days to create can now be built in minutes.
The future of the travel industry is already here and we are helping to build it. If you’d like to learn more about how eRoam can help you digitally transform your business and be ready for the inevitable post-COVID-19 travel boom, please contact us!