The traveller is the horse that pulls the cart of the tourism industry.. and from where I’m sitting (on the corral fence), the reigns controlling and guiding the direction of things are absolutely in the sphere of tech. Consider the traveller’s evolution from the days of simply receiving whatever we put out there – and our predecessors had it easy, huh? But how boring that sounds now – to dictating our product development, marketing strategies, business practices entirely.. wow! We’d best get creative and explore how technology helps us. So we can evolve too.
You’re forgiven for feeling daunted by the growing significance of technology in the way you manage your business, but this thing is gaining momentum, no passing fad. Its inevitability is directly proportional to the rate at which consumers in general, and travellers in particular, are increasingly sophisticated in their view and use of technology.
Let me sketch you a portrait of modern traveller woes – the challenges that we travel professionals can comfortably address with a mind shift, a slight adjustment in how we apply our expertise, and our investment in travel tech.
They have a higher dispensable income.
They are weary of impersonal mass production treatment.
They value experience over stuff.
They are time-strapped.
They are tech savvy.
With a bit more cash in the pocket and little time to waste, they’re naturally willing to pay extra for service that meets their needs and even exceeds their expectations. They appreciate the convenience of a trustworthy one-stop shop that can accommodate every possible service requirement before, during and even after travel. As the travel purchase forms part of the experience, it’s the holistic approach that holds the most appeal. It fits in with the individual personalised experience modern travellers crave.
So what we’re dealing with is a traveller desiring an immersive experience. They’ve tried going the DIY route to achieve that and they would continue on that path – they have enough affinity with tech to make extensive use of what’s out there online – but they’d still rather have the benefit of our expertise in travel and destinations, our network of resources and trade relationships.
There is a very holistic approach in terms of talking to other customers, to hosts or to other people in destinations as they make their mind up.
We already know how active they are on social media and that they consume other products on their mobile devices.
They’re oddly reassured by companies that feature tech as part of their service – based on an assumption that one’s grasp of sophisticated tech is synonymous with sophistication itself.
The tech nerds must be smiling
The penetration of mobile internet is continuously increasing and it is suggested in 2017 more than 63,4% will access internet via the mobile.
Joris van der Spek
Seriously though, if a client comes to you with an expectation of tech-facilitated services and you want to hand them pieces of paper with a sheepish shrug of the shoulders, you can’t surely imagine that instilling much confidence.. So evolve, we must!
All tourism research points toward trends in experiential travel and the holistic buyer journey.
As travellers yearn for that immersive experience, we’ve got to find ways of presenting those experiences during the planning and purchasing stages in ways that translate seamlessly into actually living them. For those weary of the robotic treatment they get from travel companies, especially as they’re left to their own devices after settling the bill and receiving their travel vouchers, the travel journey needs an altruistic injection. A what? Quite simply, professionals like us need to band together, pool our resources and expertise to ease the traveller along. It may appear that we’re doing it for no profit, but the mutual long-term benefits are clear. Happy clients are repeat clients. We’ve always networked and shared information within the trade but how do we take collaboration a decisive step deeper into client satisfaction?
For one thing, we can support each other better and centralise data and content; we can use tech better as part of our marketing and sales toolkit. Technology directly impacts on accessibility, makes things easier for trade and traveller.
Today’s travelers demand flexibility, protection and real-time access to travel providers in order to ensure a seamless experience.
The tech imperative, as I like to call it, has infiltrated our industry irrevocably. Avoidance is the way of the dinosaur: oblivion. There’s an inescapable and potentially highly constructive interdependence at play here. Travellers want their travel agents on board the tech train. Then agents need tour operators and DMCs on board (and vice versa). Operators want suppliers on board; and everyone needs destinations involved – local residents included in the mix. Where and how is easy: the space for interaction and collaboration is in the cloud. Hooking up with the tech cloud means empowering ourselves with content management and distribution facilities that simplify the way we work. We save time because there’s a controlled, secure system in place for how we access information and there’s consistency in the quality of content made available.
At a time when consumer demands change at a more rapid pace than ever before, it’s surprising that more travel industry players haven’t yet learned to harness cloud tech.
With relevant, fresh content stored centrally within the cloud, everybody wins. Hi-resolution images that display beautifully in landscape format on any device, virtual tours and video tantalisingly captured by human or drone, along with the rest of the precious content travellers need, all of these can be simply conveyed via hyperlink.
The stories you wish to tell are then easily constructed by simply dipping into a virtual cookie jar of content that’s quality controlled by its owners themselves. Tech is the neutral gatekeeper that takes the hard graft out of our hands and gives us back the time we need attend to our clients.
With your website being such a vital element in your toolkit, imagine getting that content working harder for you there. It’s as simple as getting your developers putting in some API coding and pulling through that precious content onto your website, so that you have uniformity in what you’re trying to promote across your marketing and sales channels – in a sense applying some digital glue between you and your collaborators.
Tech giant IBM handily describes APIs as ‘the building blocks of transformation’ that links services, applications and systems.
With cloud computing simplifying distribution among travel suppliers and trade, you have guaranteed access to fresh content to flesh out your products. Showcase your products in a digital story book format and you’ve got something that’ll have your partners and clients riveted. It’s no exaggeration that content marketing has grown in importance – the way the visual appeals to the traveller’s desire for an emotional, apparently altruistic approach by the trade to selling travel. It solves that little problem they encounter when they go the DIY route and find themselves overwhelmed by a glut of random, irrelevant content online.
All the fabulous content in the world has zero impact if your distribution is limited to printed brochures, catalogues, paper itineraries and proposals, emails with massive file sharing requests, image libraries and such. That’s old school and it ain’t cool. There’s nothing terribly wrong with giving your clients glossy hard copies of a beautifully crafted itinerary and branded vouchers as keepsakes of their holiday. But the forests are shaking in their dirt-filled boots with all the paper we crunch through, printing multiple options for clients in their planning stage; and all those lovely catalogues with sample itineraries based on expired specials and seasonal rates..
If this was our only option, I’d look the other way and say, go for it. If a growing number of travellers didn’t care about green issues and if they didn’t dictate to us their preference for the Internet of Things, I’d say, carry on. If it weren’t for the traveller’s Appetite for mobile travel and consistent UX across all the devices they use, I’d say, no worries, the App culture doesn’t apply to us.
Alas.. the mouthwatering, exciting truth of the matter is that none of the above is true!
Mobile web is a strong access point for quick searches and transactions, while apps are ideal for repeat engagement with returning customers.
That’s the mind shift; in practice it means we empower ourselves with tech to respond better to traveller demands. We can make use of the existing Apps already popular among consumers, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, to reassure clients by herding them towards sustained, direct access to us.
Linking up a chatbot API with a travel API is made possible by tech giants opening up their APIs to the developer community.
In layman’s terms it boils down to tech identifying travel conversations to turn them into actionable plans for us to execute. Messaging as an extension of customer service should by now be a regular feature in the way you engage your clients – it’s what travellers want. Stuff happens during travel – the emotional capital is invaluable as they rely upon your immediate response to crises or complaints.
There are other spin-off benefits with huge implications.
The ability to accumulate mountains of useful data on consumer behaviour and trends, and how that helps us develop our products to better match the changing needs and desires for particular travel experiences.
Turn this conversational commerce into tricks for upselling, and everyone scores.
Paul English explained his motivation behind developing App Lola as due to ‘a rapid shift to messaging as the preferred mode of communication’ and ‘increased discretionary spending to experiences and premium services versus luxury goods’.
So while we’re on a quest to give travellers everything they could possibly want/need, consider that the long list of requirements could be accommodated in an easily downloadable App or two. We’re talking about practical destination concerns they’d normally have to Google or get from a hotel concierge: weather; restaurant information; things to do; travel videos; promotions/deals; rewards programmes; hotel information; destination pictures; traveller reviews. It’s that one-stop-shop challenge that we can conquer to make travel easier for our client and earn their loyalty.
And that’s what makes a happy traveller: an experience that’s memorable and personal; expert and humanised service; simplicity and convenience; optimal use of their time and value for their money. What you get is a satisfied client who evangelises your brand, refers business to you, gives you their repeat business as well as precious feedback to help you hone your products and service.
Today, the competitive advantage comes from analysis. Those who process, analyze and act on information first have the advantage.
In a nutshell, it’s the fragmentation of the trade we should be raging against. The ‘us vs them’ discourse #mustfall. We need active participation and collaboration among trade partners to provide travellers a better, comprehensive travel buying experience, and give technology pride of place in our evolution.