Shift happens: 5 key changes to the travel industry agents need to know

Businessman using futuristic VR

Shift is happening in the travel industry, both locally and globally.

And while that may seem daunting, it’s critical to adapt quickly in order to future proof ourselves and our businesses.

These challenging times represent golden opportunities, and innovation and disruption can come from anywhere, but is it a blessing or a curse?

It’s up to you to decide.

There are five key shifts that matter to our industry right now.

They are:

1. Evolving Customer Dynamics

Working with real estate agent

The first shift is about the changing customer landscape – they are evolving quicker than we can keep up with them.

To embrace this shift, we need more data, better data, and to understand the data using technology in new and innovative ways to make it easier make smart decisions.

There are very compelling reasons to be more data-driven.

It doesn’t matter what size your business is as long as you focus on the right data, and you have a system/process to collect and segment it.

The point here is that you really need to embrace digital technology throughout your business and along the entire customer journey.

Technology should be seen as your friend – it can help you gather data, gain a better understanding of your customers, and help you keep pace with change.

Why this matters?

This is about designing the customer experience and knowing when to automate, leverage digital assets, and integrate the human touch.

It’s why user experience designers are in such high demand.

2. Blurred Lines of Reality

Businessman using futuristic VR

The second shift is all about the emergence of new immersive technologies.

The ‘try before you buy’ play is pretty compelling.

Travel is a natural fit with virtual reality a sales pitch and augmented reality enhancing the experience.

Pokemon Go was merely a stepping stone to the crazy world of Augmented Reality.

Consumers are looking for an engaging in-store experience that goes beyond enthusiastic customer service, and VR is a great way for retail travel stores to tap into the experience economy.

Thomas Cook in the UK was one of the first retail travel agencies to successfully adopt VR technology.

Today, one in ten of its customers book directly after a VR experience.

TUI is another brand that has gotten on board, rolling out new interactive concepts including interactive maps, immersive digital screens and VR headsets to 120 stores in Europe.

Virgin Atlantic can transport you to any of the top bars, like a top-end vodka bar in NYC, while you are sitting at the First Class bar onboard their aircraft.

Disney, one of the most innovative companies in the world (it’s in their DNA), is opening the Star Wars hotel next year which will be completely experiential.

Why this matters?

It matters because sooner or later this technology will be everywhere, so let’s not get left behind.

3. Mass Technology Takeover

Electrician robot handyman wrench pliers. Mechanic cyborg toy lamp bulb eyes head, electric wires, capacitors vintage resistors. Green paper background copy text

If technology makes life easier, consumers are happy to embrace it.

The big shift is that we will be speaking to virtual assistants to order our food, change the lighting, put on some music and ring our travel agent to make a travel booking.

Voice-enabled is the next thing.

In America 55 per cent of homes – that is 70 million people – have Alexa.

Australians are obsessed with mobile phones (35 per cent of us check our mobile phone within five minutes of waking) but we have been slow adopters of voice technology.

We even ignore Siri and she has got a whole lot smarter.

The future will be about striking the balance between modern technology and the human touch.

Why this matters?

Understanding the moments when voice technology can enhance customers’ experience is key.

4. Sustainability has a makeover

young man with a world globe in his hands

We are seeing more and more brands standing up and making themselves accountable for the planet.

This shift is because sustainability is increasingly paired with travel.

I am a big believer and very passionate about the fact the travel industry needs to play a key role, particularly when 10 per cent of the world’s GDP comes from tourism.

We are seeing a shift where brands are moving beyond compliance/regulation and driving efficiency.

We all know that the hotel scam to help the environment and keep your dirty towel was about efficiency gains and saving costs.

Consumers are now buying brands with a social purpose.

Who is doing this well?

G Adventures – advocates for inspiring young travellers to be mindful of their choices.
Visit Org – the world’s leading platform for social impact travel experiences. 100 per cent of revenue is invested back in the local community.
Jet Blue – has a community project to save the coral after a hurricane devastated the reef in the Caribbean.
Space X – puts rockets and shuttles into space but ensures they return to earth (recyclable rockets).

Why this matters?

Sustainability and responsible tourism will need to be more than marketing gimmicks. It needs to become a core business practice.

5. Travel Butterfly Effect

Hikers on the mountain

The final trend we have is called the travel butterfly effect.

We are moving beyond experience into transformative travel where people want to be moved, shifted or changed in some way.

They want travel to open their minds and open their eyes.

The Transformational Travel Council defines Transformational Travel ‘as any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting change in their life’.

So to wrap up how these five shifts will impact the travel industry in the next few years, I recommend:

• Be obsessive about understanding your customers and where you can enhance your engagement on the customer journey

• Immerse yourself in technology from virtual reality to voice activated

• Do your bit for the planet – your customers will respect you for it

• The Travel Butterfly Effect is here and now. Find out how can you ride the wave.

Do you have something to say on this? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Ali Coulton here to share your thoughts.

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