This article is part of our August series on travel and hospitality. Click here for more.
Along with the music business, travel has felt the impact of digital more than most industries, and it’s still being disrupted both by startups and by huge players from adjacent sectors.
TUI is the largest travel and tourism business in the world, owning six European airlines and nine tour operators in Europe. It’s responding to this disruption with a digital transformation programme focused on using digital channels to add value for the customer.
Elliot Antrobus-Holder is TUI’s group head of digital product and the man charged with making this transformation happen. CMO.com caught up with him recently, and started off by asking him to explain his role.
Antrobus-Holder: My role splits into two areas, both focused on enabling digital transformation. One is around digital platforms and identifying customer needs—current and in the future—and building digital products and services to meet those needs. At the moment, that’s looking at CRM, customer management, marketing automation, and mobile channels.
The other area is focused on the culture, people, and process elements of digital transformation. So how do we get our people into a digital mindset where they can work more effectively in a world that is increasingly digitally enabled?
CMO.com: What are the business challenges facing TUI?
Antrobus-Holder: The biggest challenge for us is keeping pace with the market. Customer expectations are moving quicker than we can feasibly deliver, and, at the moment, we are very focused on delivering some of the core platforms that we need for this digital transformation. My biggest worry is how we continue to innovate and build new products and services for our customers, whilst we’re still delivering those key platforms.
CMO.com: You mentioned digital transformation. What does that mean for TUI?
Antrobus-Holder: Digital transformation, for us, is focused on how we enhance the holiday experience for the customer and use digital channels to add more value. We’re a fairly unique business in that we are vertically integrated—we own the whole customer experience from the start of the holiday journey right to the end. We’re using our digital channels to add value all the way through, whether that’s checking in with your mobile boarding pass, checking in at your hotel with a mobile, ordering food and drinks or excursions when you’re away, because that’s where we can differentiate from a TUI perspective. We’re fairly early on that transformation journey, so we’ve still got a lot to do, but we’ve got a very clear vision in place, and we’re delivering quite quickly.
CMO.com: How significant a part does personalisation play in your thinking?
Antrobus-Holder: Personalisation is critical. We want to get to a completely personalised experience for each of our customers when they go on holiday. The core of that is analytics and becoming customer-centric, because, at the moment, we’re not. So the first step for us is identification and authentication of the customer and set-up of a customer account.
The next step is to enable that across the whole value chain so it’s not a frustrating experience for the customer having customer-centricity in one part of the journey but not the next. Then the third part is enabling that personalisation layer across the whole end-to-end journey. That will be quite a transformation for us once that’s happened.
CMO.com: How significant is mobile for your business?
Antrobus-Holder: Mobile is massive in its importance to that customer journey. It’s the one channel present throughout the whole holiday journey, from you starting to research your holiday, all the way to going home. So it’s a critically important channel for us to get right. We’re early in that journey—we have an excellent mobile app, but, arguably, it’s focused on the first part of the journey—the sale and booking of holidays. We don’t have a huge amount of features and capability whilst you’re on holiday. That’s where we’re really focused now, because that’s where we can differentiate and add value for customers.
CMO.com: What metrics do you use?
Antrobus-Holder: At the moment, key metrics for us are largely around satisfaction, so NPS is the core metric that we look at. Secondary to that is sales—both holiday sales and ancillary sales of things like excursions, car hire, and travel money.
They’re pretty critical, but the number one for us is just getting large volumes of customers using mobile and digital channels, mainly because we’re fairly early in this digital transformation and we need engagement and adoption through those channels quite quickly.
CMO.com: Is that due to the nature of the holiday business?
Antrobus-Holder: Yes. Holidays are a tricky product because they’re very cyclical in nature, so a customer might only book one holiday every two years. From a digital engagement perspective, you’ll have peaks and troughs, so what we need to do is try and maintain that level of engagement with the customer. That’s where mobile and digital channels come in.
We want to prompt customers to look, to research, and to be inspired regularly, and we can use mobile channels to do that. Things like push notifications, regular email communication, lots of inspirational offers, and hints and tips to build that ongoing relationship via your mobile is really important to us.
TUI is a traditional business, but it’s a very successful traditional business, so moving into new models and new ways of doing things is always a challenge. Moving away from campaign-based targeting to this always-on communication is a big change for us.
CMO.com: How has the relationship between marketing and IT changed?
Antrobus-Holder: The relationship with IT and marketing is very much a partnership. We work very closely with our marketing colleagues, and that hand-in-hand relationship is only getting closer. Our marketing colleagues are getting more involved in a lot of the technical delivery, so they’re very aware of the technical constraints on what we’re doing, and, likewise, we have a very good understanding of the customer as well, which is fairly new for an IT department.
We understand what campaigns are going on, what our customers need and want, and that, again, is becoming closer in terms of relationship. It’s, certainly, more of a partnership now than it was nine months ago.