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A person with a compass, charting a course of travel for 2020
Perspective

How to Chart a Smoother Course for Travel in the 2020s

Four ways to remove digital friction in the coming decade 

Successful digital travel transformation requires an understanding of the customer’s desires and expectations. Though some destinations go in or out of vogue, certain trends show no signs of abating as we kick off a new decade.

Travelers have consistently reported valuing particular types of experiences: authentic, personalized, interactive and connected. For instance, according to Resonance’s Future of Millennial Travel report, 60 percent of travelers want authentic and personalized experiences, 54 percent want interactive experiences throughout their trips, 70 percent want digital services customized to their preferences and 63 percent want to share their journeys over social media.

Businesses in travel and hospitality can thrive by using interactive technologies to connect customers with authentic experiences that are personalized.

These are difficult, though not impossible, targets to hit. Authenticity requires preserving traditional hospitality in the digital space. Personalization requires a delicate touch that does not overextend. Connection requires identifying friction in the customer’s journey. Interactivity requires truly responsive virtual assistants and interfaces.

Overall, the travel industry can improve the customer’s experience by basing their real-world and digital solutions on the following values.

 

“The core notion of hospitality is built around an authentic interaction and conversation between a travel brand and its guest.”
David Taylor, Travel & Hospitality Strategy Lead at Publicis Sapient

 Make it authentic

David Taylor, Travel & Hospitality Strategy Lead at Publicis Sapient in Washington, said the core of the hospitality industry is helping the guest and building a personal connection.

“The core notion of hospitality is built around an authentic interaction and conversation between a travel brand and its guest,” Taylor said. “As we enter 2020, digital is enabling travel brands to interact in ways that have never been done before. What sets great brands apart is bringing the core notion of authenticity and hospitality to each interaction along their travel journey.”

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has attracted attention for localizing their properties. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all, standardized hotels. Nowadays, hotels draw culinary, architectural and cultural inspiration from the surrounding city to create authentic guest experiences. Ritz-Carlton’s emphasis on authenticity has been recognized, celebrated and emulated by others in the travel and hospitality industry.

“The only place [airlines] haven’t been able to personalize is on the flight when they’re sitting in the seat.”
Dan Lubetsky, senior director of customer experience and innovation at Publicis Sapient

Personalize the offerings

Dan Lubetsky, senior director of customer experience and innovation at Publicis Sapient in Chicago, said there’s opportunity for airlines to incorporate greater personalization for the in-flight experience, such as entertainment options.

“When do airlines have somebody’s attention? When they’re considering a trip, booking the trip, on their way to the airport, in the airport, on the plane and disembarking. At that point, they’re done. That’s a pretty long timeframe,” Lubetsky said. “The only place they haven’t been able to personalize is on the flight when they’re sitting in the seat.”

He said successful personalization requires several elements: content because what you’re going to personalize will be information (whether text or audio-visual), relevant data to determine which information should be presented or withheld, artificial intelligence and machine learning to scale this capability and technology that is flexible enough to accommodate different experiences across various interfaces.

However, personalization needs to be tempered with restraint and transparency.

“Personalization is really strong and matters but if you take it too far your brand can look like it’s surveilling its customer base,” Lubetsky said. “How do you leverage data in the most impactful way to be authentic and transparent, to drive that customer interaction connected across those experiences? That balance is important.”

"If you consider the end-to-end journey from airport, to Uber, to hotel, it is inherently disconnected and full of friction. There’s a lot of opportunity to make this seamless and connected."
David Taylor

Connect the parts

The exponential increase in commercial flights means more people are traveling and staying in new places than ever before. Whether for business or leisure, travel holds the potential to significantly change the way individuals view the world, its borders and boundaries. It can nurture global thinking.

Unfortunately, as Taylor points out, the customer journey is inherently disconnected and can create unnecessary friction. Planes, trains and automobiles are rarely integrated services.

“If you consider the end-to-end journey from airport, to Uber, to hotel, it is inherently disconnected and full of friction. There’s a lot of opportunity to make this seamless and connected,” Taylor said.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are trying to connect these various services. But traditional businesses in the travel and hospitality industry are also taking steps to address this friction. For example, Marriott International and United Airlines created a complimentary baggage delivery service for business-class customers on flights between London Heathrow and Newark Liberty.

Then there’s the smart phone and social media aspect to vacations. Tourists have come to expect being as connected to the digital world as they are back home and sharing their adventures online.

Customer surveys suggest businesses could improve their experiences by keeping them connected to the outside world through easily accessed wireless internet and reachable charging stations for their smartphones. In a Lightspeed/Mintel survey of diners at casual restaurants, participants expressed more concern for free Wi-Fi and the ability to change electronic devices when deciding where to eat over improving the meal experience digitally. This isn’t to say that the actual dining experience cannot or should not be improved – it can and should. But sometimes impactful solutions are refreshingly simple. By and large, people want to stay connected.

"If you are personalizing, you have to come across as authentic, what you are sharing must be interactive because you’re trying to drive an action."
Chris Follett, executive creative director at Publicis Sapient

Set interactive experiences

The two-way flow of information between customers and digital solutions enables the experiences outlined above. Travelers can connect and personalize their trips through interactive services.

Chris Follett, executive creative director at Publicis Sapient in San Francisco, said digital experiences today are predefined, self-service, engagements. But virtual assistants are expanding the scope of what’s possible in these digital interactions.

“Guided voice assistants are revolutionizing how we interact with digital information by combining conversational guidance, and graphical information, with a touch interface,” Follett said.

These virtual assistants make it much easier for customers to access information in a fun, informal way. They no longer need to thumb through lengthy brochures or skim through irrelevant information to figure out what they need right now.

Hoteliers could learn about the power of interactive technology at every step of the journey from the elaborate sales process for Palazzo del Sol, a luxury condominium development on Fisher Island near Miami.

Before visiting the property, prospective residents can access an invite-only website with views of the island and an iPad chuck-full of sleek photography and information. But the on-site “island immersion room” creates a truly interactive experience. Its touch-screen table and high-definition video walls that showcase the benefits of calling Palazzo del Sol home.

Looking at these trends, it becomes clear that they reinforce and enable the other trends. Lubetsky said they go together so well that they could be seen as four components of a singular megatrend.

“If you are personalizing, you have to come across as authentic, what you are sharing must be interactive because you’re trying to drive an action and if it’s disconnected you’re negatively impacting the customer experience,” he said. “Making it connected, ensures you are tying it all together.”

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Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh