This article is part of our August series on travel and hospitality. Click here for more.
We make a lot of noise for big technology--flashy unveils of midsize electric sedans, hyperloops, and robots that speak to each other in a new language. (Save us, Will Smith!)
Technology is bound to/has to/must impact everything we do. Ordering fast food from a robot in the not-too-distant future will be commonplace. We won’t expect great service; we’ll be looking for speed.
But in the travel and hospitality industry, we expect more. We expect a personal touch.
“Personalization is shaping the future of travel and hospitality. The hotel of the future will have a new role and that is to offer guests a memorable hotel experience uniquely tailored to their expectations,” said Tristan Seymour, managing director of Lodging World, a hotel aggregating service. “Companies have to think outside the box when it comes to their offerings. A chocolate on the pillow and a bathroom full of salts aren’t going to cut it anymore. Hotels need to think, ‘What do consumers really want?’’’
This is why last month Mashable satirically wrote about “70 things Millennials have killed.” Everything has to be an experience. Large chains are understanding that they have many competitors and alternatives vying for people’s travel spending.
“Today, it’s important to find innovative ways to engage with consumers across multiple platforms in relevant ways. ... Specifically, during Crabfest at Red Lobster, we’re using a mix of traditional advertising, digital, social, and media partnerships to share information and engage with our guests,” said Mark Gilley, Red Lobster’s SVP of marketing. “This includes our new ‘Now This is Seafood’ marketing platform that uses a multisensory, multiframe approach to show the food from preparation to plate.”
To be sure, creating an experience doesn’t first start when people walk through the door.
“In the 45 days leading up to booking, the average American visits travel sites 140 times, spending massive amounts of time consuming digital content,” said Jim Price, VP of sales and travel at PebblePost. “Travel marketers can capitalize on those voracious appetites by capturing attention in that early aspirational, inspirational phase.”
Increasingly, that means leveraging digital video to draw people to destinations--partly because it’s an owned channel and cheaper than others, but mostly because it’s better at targeting specific people who will be interested. Broadcast TV is too broad for most travel and hospitality businesses, even if they have the budget.
But just as on Instagram, you have a split-second to capitalize on people’s interest when they are watching a video. If you don’t have somewhere to immediately direct them, that opportunity is lost.
That’s where a shoppable video experience can come into play. In the very near future, consumers will expect to be able to see something and immediately be connected to how to buy or go there. This fits perfectly for travel and hospitality because it’s highly visual in nature.
“We have seen and experienced a significant industry trend as more and more states, cities, and destinations allocate more resources to digital video away from broadcast and also utilize video monetization solutions to generate a tangible ROI,” said Ben Hatala, co-founder of Clicktivated.
The internet of things (IoT), which taps into the same consumer psychology behind impulse buys, also holds great potential.
“The on-the-go nature of travel makes this industry especially well-suited for IoT and beacons, said Srini Kasthoori, industry head of Mindtree’s Travel, Transportation and Hospitality Group. “Connected to the internet of things, beacons offer the capability to send geolocation-based personalized recommendations, tailored services, and notifications. Enriching the customer experience across the value chain is a trend in the travel and hospitality industry, with a focus on increasing brand preferences, loyalty, and direct booking. IoT and beacon technologies are integral part of that trend.”
The air travel space, specifically, could be heading for a shakeup, led by startups or existing companies willing to disrupt the industry.
Clive Jackson, for example, is trying to bring private air travel eventually to the masses.
“Machine learning will also catalyze innovative new services that make private jets more available to the wider public–not just the elite,” said the CEO of Victor, which launched six years ago and bills itself as ”the technology leader in private jet charter.” “Within the next decade, I anticipate that our industry will have a mobile application simplifying how customers can share jet charters with one another.”
In turn, “This will stimulate new business and create human employment in other valuable ways,” he added. “Sharing a private aircraft will eventually prove as effortless as creating a WhatsApp group or sending images via text.”
Meantime, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport--the busiest airport in the world, according to passenger traffic--is building a stunning 440-room InterContinental hotel right into the airport.
“The hotel at HJAIA will be an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle that comes naturally with any major transportation hub. In observing traveler behavior during, while in transit, or on a short trip, we noticed how exhausting that experience is to many people,” said Pierluca Maffey, VP of design at John Portman & Associates. “The airport hotel will not be just convenient, it will be a place where you would want to go and visit.”
All told, the balance between automation, data, great service, and personalization will be the equation everyone in travel and hospitality will have to solve.
“High levels of competition that reduce profit margins together with trends in automation and information technology are encouraging the replacement of staff by self-service technology,” said Dr. Wes Roehl, a professor at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management. “On the one hand, this helps suppliers manage labor costs, one of the most critical variable costs facing many tourism and hospitality industries. But on the other hand, especially for high-end suppliers, replacing staff members with technology may change the nature of the experience they offer.”
The bottom line? Two opposing forces are about to meet. They are not an either/or. They will require a human implementation of data to create the right experiences.
After all, travel isn’t about the destination. It’s about the experience.