Digitalisation, agility key for building resilience, say travel experts

The ability to be agile and adapt to evolving travel demands is crucial for the thrivability of tourism businesses in a post-vaccine era, as countries reopen to international tourists and domestic travel picks up steam.

That was the common refrain from the speakers at this morning’s ITB Asia’s C-Suite talks.

Agoda has seen a growing trend of more people using mobile devices for travel bookings during the pandemic

John Brown, Agoda CEO, shared that the pandemic has led to many travel companies having to become more agile and be swift to adapt to new market demands and trends in order to survive.

He opined that the requirement for quarantine while travelling in Asia is going to stay “for quite some time” and OTAs and hotels that are quick to respond to government requirements will stay ahead of the curve.

He believed that eventually, it will come to a point where quarantine requirements will only be overnight, and tourism players that have lined up innovative tour packages that meet new consumer demands will be well poised to tap that pent-up thirst for travel.

The digitisation of booking processes will also help accelerate the sector’s recovery. Brown shared that Agoda has seen an increase in the use of mobile devices to book travel accommodation in Asia amid the pandemic, contributing to more than half the number of bookings on the platform. He expects that figure to rise further, especially among Gen Y and Gen X who are eager to travel again as border restrictions ease across Asia.

He advised tourism players to invest in good mobile apps that can give customers a great experience, as that would help with brand loyalty.

While the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, DMCs have been slow to adopt and have remained largely offline, with interactions with travel agents and tour operators largely executed over email and bookings managed in separate unconnected systems, shared Hamish Keith, CEO of Exo Travel Group, in a separate presentation.

He said: “This is not surprising as the DMC business is all about people and human interaction, and each programme contains multiple moving parts that are very difficult to automate.”

Customisation of the travel programme to suit the varying needs of clients makes it difficult to digitalise the booking process, he added.

However, Keith stressed on the importance for DMCs to have a digital interface that will enable agents to select and book specific customised products online in real-time. He also shared that Exo Travel Group is currently working on creating a system that can cater to fully digitised dynamic pricing for complex tailor-made tour itineraries.

Based on the company’s digitalisation experience, Keith shared that DMCs embarking on their digitalisation journey should only automate what makes sense to them, and their IT system should incorporate an option for taking a booking offline.

Carlos Muñoz, Hotelbeds CCO, shared that with the foreseeable expansion of international travel as destinations reopen and allow their citizens to travel abroad, the company is in a good position to provide value to hoteliers who want access to difficult-to-reach customer segments such as travel agencies and airline loyalty schemes.

He added: “We have invested a lot in terms of technology and processes as well as partnerships. We also provide access to non-competing distribution channels, so we do not compete with hoteliers for the end consumer.”

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