The Seamless Travel Experience

The travel industry is considered to be one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and competition to grab customer attention is at an all-time high. One way that major players can set themselves apart in this competition is by integrating new technology, with the ultimate goal of providing a seamless travel experience.

Digital travel sales are expected to increase from $594 billion in 2016 to an estimated $762 billion in 2019. Gone are the days of travel agents who coordinate entire vacations for you. In the digital age, travel companies provide the tools for customers to find and book their own trip.

Although the tools are available to consumers, the experience can still be somewhat disjointed. Booking flights, hotels, and other amenities can often be done within one website/app (a third-party provider like Priceline or Orbitz), or through each individual provider. A traveler may need to create multiple accounts, receive alerts and confirmations from multiple sources, and each provider may offer different channels to access the information. The idea of a seamless travel experience can be likened to another term - platformization. Here's what that might look like in the travel industry.

  • A travel-booking platform advertises their seamless tool to an online user looking for vacation ideas on their website, based on that user's browsing patterns.
  • The user books a trip online, either on a computer or mobile device. It shouldn't matter which.
  • The booking platform provides options and pricing for every facet of the trip. This includes flights, accommodations, rental car, and options for additional amenities like restaurants and activities.
  • Once the flight and hotel are booked, the platform/app is home to confirmations for every service. No printing or separate accounts necessary, and it's accessible on all devices.
  • The dates and times of each event in the trip can be set up as alerts to the traveler's preferred device and channel. Alerts of any itinerary changes or new offers included. So, if the departure gate is changed, the traveler will know before he/she arrives at the wrong one.
  • Notifications and offers are sent based on the traveler's itinerary, location, previous browsing, purchases, and preferences in their profile. When the traveler lands in their destination, the platform offers instructions on how and where to pick up the rental car they reserved, directions to the hotel, and suggestions for restaurants in the area.
  • Future offers are based on their profile preferences and purchase history.

This all sounds amazing for the customers, right? Imagine how the stresses of travel could be reduced with a simplified, one-stop interface for your travels. This is beneficial from the business perspective as well. Providing a seamless travel experience means you have all of the traveler's attention, and thus more opportunities to gather data to build customer profiles. That translates to more tailored content and offerings, and greater chances of cross and up-selling to boost revenue. Furthermore, this type of experience fosters customer loyalty and an increased lifetime customer value for the brand. People will gravitate towards products and services that simplify their lives.

But the integration isn't quite there yet. According to Statistic Brain as of April 2016, 57% of all travel bookings are made online. Despite the increasing ease of customer data gathering, only 20% of airlines currently use such data to offer their customers a personalized experience.

It would behoove companies in the travel industry to embrace this type of personalization. Analysis by Amadeus indicates that 26% of travelers are more likely to respond to messages tailored to personal interests, while 22% are more likely to respond to promotions that are specific to their location, further underlining the importance of personalization to boost profitability.

A few companies have made strides in the effort to provide a seamless travel experience.

  • In 2013, Disney introduced MyMagic+, combining their mobile app and a wristband that allows visitors to seamlessly plan and execute their Disney vacation. Guests can use the MagicBand as a mobile wallet/passport to access their park tickets, restaurant reservations, credit card information, and a digital room key. The accompanying app offers travel booking capabilities, as well as event schedules and offers based on the user's profile and location.
  • In 2015, Hilton Hotels partnered with Uber in select cities. Hilton's HHonors rewards members already have access to an app for booking rooms, checking in, ordering amenities, and digital room keys. The partnership allows them to set up "ride reminders" which will request an Uber at a predetermined time and input the hotel address. The program will also pull data from Uber, providing HHonors members with recommendations based the most popular destinations in their area.

Disney's MagicBand and mobile app is perhaps the greatest glimpse into the future of seamless travel. Wearables continue to grow in popularity, as does consumer desire for mobile wallets and platformization of many everyday experiences.

For businesses in the travel industry, providing a seamless experience as described above requires partnerships in which data is shared. We've explored this issue in the retail banking and fintech industries, where open APIs can enable a seamless experience by allowing better communication between company databases. A user won't have to jump between channels and platforms at different points in their journey.

The major challenges lie in the communication between databases, creating a clean user interface, and the commitment to gathering and utilizing customer data to provide the most personalized travel experience possible. The big question is: who is going to be the one providing the platform? The individual airlines and hotels can offer perhaps the most incentives for users, while the third-party booking companies may be better enabled to link the booking process to the seamless experience by providing all services in one platform, since they are already aggregating travel data from multiple airlines, hotels, and other service providers.

The travel industry is trending in this direction. Fast adoption of technology, mobile optimization, and integrated databases will be important for any company looking to emerge as a leader in seamless travel experiences. Platformization is akin to the omnichannel customer experience. Integrating this tech will enable increased revenue opportunities and, likely, increased customer loyalty.

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