OPINION: Three trends that will disrupt the travel industry

Man using mobile travel online and icon network connection on screen, traveler concept, all on mobile screen are designed up

The travel business is booming – but not for everybody.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the global travel industry is continuing to expand, growing by 3.9 per cent to US$8.8 trillion (A$12.6 trillion) last year. The WTTC also predicts the industry will create more than 100 million new jobs in the next decade.

That’s the good news, but it applies to the industry as a whole. These results will be spread unevenly, with winners and losers across every segment. The winners will be the operators who proactively innovate to leverage technology, while the rest will be left behind.

So, how do you ensure you become one of the winners and stay ahead of the game? The fundamentals for success – creating total experiences, obsessing about every touchpoint, removing pain points, and solving problems – remain the same. But technology is transforming – and disrupting – the way you deliver these fundamentals.

Here are three key trends transforming the industry – and what you need to do to leverage them.

  1. Join the journey sooner

When does the “customer journey” start for an airline passenger? It’s long before they board the plane, of course. But is it in the airport lounge? Or the check-in counter? Or the online booking form? Or the Google search for flights and fares?

The correct answer is: none of the above.

For the customer, the journey might start in their mind when they see a friend sharing a travel selfie on social media. That’s the real start of the journey, and the sooner you can join that journey, the better.

For example, low-cost airline easyJet has a ‘Look & Book’ feature in their app, which lets users post screen grabs of Instagram posts, and the app identifies the location and allows the user to see – and book – flights instantly. This is just one example of a company thinking about their customer’s needs, not just their own services.

  1. Understand the total experience

Airbnb has disrupted the accommodation sector – to the tune of five million properties in 80,000 cities around the world. But its biggest impact is just starting now. Airbnb understands that travellers aren’t just looking for beds; they are travelling for experiences. So Airbnb now partners with local providers to capture a bigger slice of the customer’s experience. It’s not just good business for Airbnb; it’s exactly what their customers want.

Customers will favour providers who can help them with more of their total experience, rather than those who just “stick to their knitting”.

This might mean upgrading or replacing your IT infrastructure (so it’s cloud-based, connected, secure, integrated using APIs, and so on), but it’s an important investment to make.

  1. Get up close and personal

Frequent travellers expect special treatment, and technology can provide this at an individual level. For instance, Delta’s flight attendants use a ‘Guest Service Tool’ in the air to look up historical information about passengers – such as previous flights, birthdays, and individual preferences. In the future, this kind of technology will be enhanced with AI, augmented reality, and facial recognition to make this engagement seamless.

Are you fast, flat, and free?

These are just three of the many trends in the travel and tourism industry. Broadly, the world is becoming fast, flat and free: everything is moving faster than ever before, we’ve broken down hierarchies and barriers, and things that used to cost a lot now cost a lot less.

Assess everything you’re doing in your business against these three factors. If you’re slow, bumpy, or expensive (that is, the opposite of fast, flat and free), you’re at risk of disruption!

Gihan Perera is a business futurist, speaker, and author who works with business leaders to help them lead and succeed in an uncertain but exciting future.

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