Services and Retail
Digital transformation Enterprise Excellence

A customer centric digital travel journey

We digital consumers are more demanding when it comes to the purchasing process and it is not easy to respond to this change as an organization.
Ellen Van Caillie

Now that the holidays have ended, everyone is back in their usual place again, albeit looking tanned and well rested. But do you remember the days, about ten years ago, when planning a holiday was a huge undertaking and you would make your choice based on very little information? You would get all your inspiration from the travel agent’s two streets over. You would pop in, the agents would greet you in a friendly manner, you would be asked to take a seat at one of the desks, and you would be literally bombarded with questions. Do you want to travel by car or by plane? Do you want a sporty vacation or do you prefer to relax? Nature and mountains or sun and the beach? A hotel or a campsite? And so on… At the end of this lengthy process, you would go home with a stack of brochures to finalize your choice.

At home, you decided on a flight and hotel package to Lake Garda because your friends had an amazing holiday there. And back you went to the travel agent’s for more brochures, about hotels near Lake Garda. Then you spent time comparing the different hotels by leafing through endless, thin pages in the brochure. Finally, you managed to narrow down your selection by dog-earing the pages of your choice. And so you visited the travel agent’s yet again, for your booking. There, you would usually show them your final choices, and naturally one of the travel agents had already been to the hotel and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again if she had the opportunity. The travel agents would convince you with a lot of fine words, while never forgetting that your booking would earn them a nice commission.

The travel agency manager then took care of everything while you chatted about Lake Garda and other trips you took. Usually he or she also recommended a few useful (?) paid supplements that you realize were completely useless once on location. After everything had been booked, all you had to do was go back once the tickets and vouchers had arrived. Flight booked, hotel rooms paid, one time-consuming chore still remained: mapping out your trip and finding out about all the sights.

The travel agent’s usually supplied limited information at best, which was often just half a page in the brochure and some words of supplementary advice. You could only reach the travel agent’s during office hours. Outside these hours, you had to make do with the brochures. So, you would often have to rush back there after work in order to obtain the information you required. And nobody ever asked you, after the trip, whether you enjoyed yourself. In some cases, the information you received was outdated and the hotel did not even remotely resemble the pretty picture in the brochure.

You probably booked a trip a few months ago and the process was quite different compared with the travel brochure era. Nowadays, you can find all the information you need to arrange your future holiday at any time of the day. Various websites assist you with ideas, recommendations, and reviews by other travellers. Here you can look at an endless number of photos, book airline tickets, compare prices and hotels, obtain additional facilities, take advantage of deals, and take a closer look at the location thanks to Google Streetview.

The digitization of the travel industry has been going on for several years now. Pure online travel agents have seen their turnover increase year after year. Booking.com or even TripAdvisor… There was no such thing ten years ago. Now these global players are worth several billions of euros. Not to mention Airbnb and other similar companies that have launched a new approach to consumption called the ‘sharing economy’.

As a consultant, you soon realize that it is not evident for traditional travel companies to maintain their market share. Today’s consumers want to do much more than just book a hotel and a flight. They want full packages that deliver an incredible experience and don’t involve a lot of effort to organize. The traditional model of offering customers brochures is often still a key feature in the operations and processes, teams, and IT systems of the biggest players in the travel industry (just think of Thomas Cook, Jetair and others). Transforming this way of working is tantamount to reinventing their business model. We digital consumers are more demanding when it comes to the purchasing process and it is not easy to respond to this change as an organization. Will these organizations adapt in order to get a grip on their market again and can they still convince demanding customers like us? Will they succeed in fundamentally transforming their business model end-to-end? How will technology play an even greater role in this?

As consumers, we will be at the centre of this process even more than is currently the case. Travel agents will no longer determine the customer’s travel journey. Instead, we will increasingly do this ourselves. And organizations will have no choice but to follow, suit and adapt. Customers want everything at any time. Whether or not an organization can rise to this challenge will make a difference when it comes to attracting and retaining customers. Digitization is indispensable in this change process. Establishing partnerships, networking with partners, etc. This is vital because not even the largest travel companies can offer everything, at all times, and everywhere.

Imagine you want to take that fun trip to Lake Garda five years from now. Will travel agents already be able to predict what you want? Based on big data technology, they will be able to specifically recognize you as a customer. They might even know better what you are looking for at that instant than you do yourself. This is called contextually-aware customer experiences.

You will be offered customized pages, where you will be shown and can find everything that might appeal to you. No more redundant information or uninteresting ads. You will also only see reviews that match your profile. A virtual travel guide will list all the fun hotspots, restaurants, bars, and more that may interest you. Customer-driven marketing doing what it does best. Do you want to check whether this is indeed the best offer? Then why not ask your virtual assistant? They will generate a good list that allows you to compare interesting prices. Are you intending to book a flight and don’t trust all the airlines? No problem. You will only be shown deals that you consider interesting. Micromarketing to your level, targeting you as a person, not as a customer. This is no longer a case of B2B or B2C. It’s all about H2H (human-to-human) now. You, the customer, are at the centre of this process and you expect a human service that matches your values and interests. Do you need to check your partner’s agenda before booking this evening? No problem. Each device will show you where you left off with a simple click of the button. No more entering the same search criteria time and again.

Now you can even take a virtual trip from the comfort of your armchair. Virtual reality in the travel industry is also on the verge of a breakthrough. Some travel companies, such as Connections, have already seen a marked increase in their turnover for certain destinations because they have VR headsets available in their branches. This gives customers the opportunity to get a taste of what a destination has to offer. Virtual reality will allow you to explore the hotel and its surroundings, ensuring that you can’t wait to go there. But so much more is possible. Why not pop into a museum during your virtual journey, or enjoy a live-streamed concert, or visit a club with your favourite DJ, which you pay for using virtual money?

You are all packed and ready to leave, and as usual, you are in the Brussels Airport departures hall two hours in advance. “Your tickets, please.” Fortunately, these pop up on the screen of your smartphone because your phone knows exactly when you need them. Do you need to wait before your flight? Your travel agent’s remembered this, so a notification pops up on your tablet or smartphone saying that they sent you a custom travel guide with some history and facts about Lake Garda, which matches your interests.

You have finally arrived at the hotel. No more worrying about finding the right vouchers or having forgotten them. After unpacking, you head into the local village. You already received a travel guide with all the sights you want to explore nearby. During your walk you receive a notification now and then about something interesting in the vicinity, which comes “highly recommended by locals”. So you never miss a thing. You will enjoy an amazing holiday, just like you imagined, and without any hassle. Technology is always one step ahead of you, making sure you always have everything on hand at the right time.

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Ellen Van Caillie