These days, connectivity is a basic consumer need and hyper-connectivity is increasingly an expectation. So, it’s not surprising that the quality of digital experience available to the traveler is now as important as price or availability.
New research from Travelport shows that two-thirds of business travelers believe a good digital experience is important when choosing an airline. 81% use peer-to-peer reviews and 47% use voice search when researching a trip, while 70% say digital boarding passes make traveling easier. Travel now has an app for almost everything; on average, travelers use 16 different apps when traveling. 33% of business travelers now use a mobile device to book their trips – including a quarter of those aged over 55. 77% rely on their phones for flight disruption alerts because they feel that instant access to this information alleviates stress and streamlines their journeys.
We are all totally reliant on our smartphones. Whilst 43% of travelers long to escape the digital world by turning their smartphones off, 60% admit they’d be lost without them. That’s right folks; digital has definitely gone mainstream. It’s hardly surprising really. The ‘always-on’ millennial generation are the most frequent travelers, partly because they will dominate the global workforce by 2020 and partly because they love to travel. On average they make 24 round-trips a year. Coming over the horizon is the first generation born into the digital world. Generation Z (those born between 1998 and 2008) has abandoned Facebook for Instagram and Snapchat, watch twice as much video content on their mobiles and have an eight second attention span. This is the generation that will experience family FaceTime chats in VR .
Demand for a personalized, seamless and hassle-free travel experience is growing because travelers want to focus on the business objectives of their trips, and their employers are focusing on travelers’ productivity. Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Machine learning (ML) and chatbots are helping to make processes slicker and more interactive. The user experience is all-important, especially pre-trip. Travel management companies and suppliers are following the OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) lead in distilling thousands of search options down to a few fields, filters and a single search button. Providing travelers with tools that simplify the user experience makes them more likely to book through the same site in the future.
Technology is transforming business travel by making it more personal. For example, KLM Airlines has developed smart seats that collect live data on the passenger’s heart rate, tiredness, hydration levels and body temperature, giving the airline an insight into their passengers’ needs. In airports, IoT will help track hold luggage and guide passengers through airport terminals, advising them of any gate changes or delays. Other carriers are extending the digital experience to in-flight. Delta Airlines was one of the first to introduce RFID bag-tracking, capturing data stored on a special chip embedded in a luggage tag to allow travelers to track their baggage on and off the plane, and during flight. Delta’s flight attendants can also view detailed information about passengers to identify frequent flyers or those who might need special assistance. Singapore Airlines has introduced options for customized meals, whilst Air France has partnered with Daniel Boulud to offer Michelin star food on flights. Then there’s KLM’s ‘meet and seat’ feature which allows passengers to see who is sitting where .
According to Gogo, 83% of airline passengers want in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity, with 23% willing to pay extra to get it. ViaSat – technology that enables higher-speed internet access in the skies -has enabled airlines to launch new digital services. Virgin America passengers can sign into their Netflix account to stream shows to their mobile devices or tablets, whilst JetBlue offers the same service for Amazon Prime customers. Qatar Airways passengers can send MMS and SMS messages as well as access the internet during select flights. The correlation between loyalty and investment in digital is even stronger amongst hotels, despite some hotels continuing to charge for Wi-Fi (53% of business travelers avoid those who do). When Accenture surveyed 23,000 of its customers, it found that 25% took part in loyalty programs, but 24% did not feel loyal to their providers . The conclusion is that traditional points-based loyalty programs pare not delivering loyalty; guest experiences and personalization are.
Guests at Virgin Hotels Chicago can avail themselves of 'Lucy' – a mobile app that can adjust room temperature, stream content on hotel TVs and, make external dining reservations. The same brand has launched ‘The Know’ – a preference program that enables guests to choose what they’d like in their mini bar, discuss allergies and select a cocktail that will be waiting on arrival. Whilst the opportunities for improving the digital experience seem endless, the journey is not without roadblocks. One is the multi-channel travel distribution environment. Outside of a managed travel environment, travel brands and technology providers must find ways to deliver a consistent booking experience regardless of whether the booking is made via a travel management company, OTA or direct with the provider, booked by mobile or over the phone. This is where the chatbots, voice search and virtual reality will come into their own.