The Traveller’s Wonderland

Singaravelu Ekambaram, global delivery head, retail, consumer goods, travel and hospitality at Cognizant, analyses why shifting to an experience economy will require travel and hospitality providers to ride on digital technologies.

The US$8.8 trillion industry is growing at 3.9 per cent ― ahead of the global economy for the eighth consecutive year ― and continues to be one of the most dynamic industries. In this day and age of selfies and social media, travel industry providers must distinguish themselves in providing “Insta-worthy” experiences.

Millennials armed with high disposable incomes are among the most influential travellers of today. Studies have shown that 83 per cent of millennials book only bucket-list destinations and prefer immersive, experiential travel experiences, networking with peers and “flashpacking”.

In light of this, travel and hospitality (T&H) providers are stepping up efforts to increase the experience quotient that these travel cohorts seek, and turn that into a differentiation.

Ekambaram: digital technologies are the way forward, and the T&H sector would do well to embrace it

Digitally-crafted “signature moments”
In the current digital landscape, T&H players are better positioned to imbue every customer touchpoint with a distinct experience. Forrester says that these distinct experiences are “signature moments” and “memorably crafted and branded micro interactions delivering delight and brand value to guests in a subtle yet recognisable way”.

An illustration in point is Marriott, which is redefining customer experience through technologies such as voice assistants in hotel rooms, “VR postcards” that enable guests to experience travel stories in 360-degree and in 3D via VR headsets, touchscreens in the hotel lobby, and intuitive mobile apps. T&H players are now looking at how technology can be used to infuse broader customer journeys with “signature moments”.

Technology to create differentiating moments
It is essential that T&H providers leverage the enablers of digital transformation to craft “signature moments”.

Hilton has hired over 150 data scientists to collect more than one billion data points every day, to drive insightful decision-making. Such is the importance of customer analytics that Gartner calls it the top contributor to experiences. Analytics makes it possible to make critical decisions that enhance customer experiences across various touchpoints.

Did you know that Japanese travellers visiting Paris prefer classes and workshops, while US travellers prefer food and drinking? Airbnb, through investments in machine learning (ML), has analysed customer behaviour and trends to arrive at such deductions, enabling T&H providers to offer customised experience packages to targeted cohorts of guests. Hyper-personalisation through artificial intelligence and ML can thus provide deeper insight into customer needs.

Over the years, while automated self-service options such as Internet/mobile check-in, digital room keys, and automated bag drop facilities have empowered travellers, hotels such as Alibaba’s Flyzoo have now taken it to the next level by enabling facial recognition to open doors, and providing robotic room service, and even robotic bartending.

While augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have been spoken about a lot, there are still many new applications being developed for these technologies, with Mixed Reality also taking centre stage. Emirates uses VR technology for guests to explore their seats and cabin in their bigger fleets, enabling hands-free cabin navigation and seat selection by using any standard VR headset. Immersive experiences can truly be felt using AR and VR in traveller interactions.

With Alexa and Google Home becoming a part of many families, airline companies like Transavia are using voice assistants, such as Google Home assistant, to enable travellers to leverage information even during the planning phase of a vacation. The way forward for interactions is through voice assistants, instead of type or touch.

The need to think holistically
While T&H companies construct novel experiences and leverage digital enablers to enhance customer delight, it is also important that the core business is driven holistically to anticipate customer needs and surpass their expectations. Uber Eats, for example, ties the concept of food delivery to Uber’s original business of transportation, enabling them to tap into the market presented by hungry riders and mobilise not just people, but also food! Such services are only possible if investments in technologies are made in the complete context of future traveller’s needs.

By leveraging digital technologies, and building services on top of them, T&H companies can build strong touchpoints to interact with travellers. In an Eye for Travel survey, close to 80 per cent of the respondents stated that data-driven personalisation was the biggest game changer in the travel industry. Given this, it is imperative for T&H providers to make informed investments in the right technologies in order to create engaging touchpoints and deliver immersive experiences. After all, travellers and guests are out to experience a wonderland!

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