In the ever-changing world of travel technology, is the customer finally set to become king?

20 February, 2020

Travel suppliers are being urged to follow a path towards "complete retailing" through the dynamic creation of relevant and personalised offers to consumers. The observation is based on the continued evolution of travel retailing with suppliers now able to take advantage of technologies such as advanced data analytics, mobile and machine learning to help create offers dynamically.

The suggestions are from a whitepaper commissioned by Enterprise Ireland, Ireland's national export agency, to highlight the role that Irish travel tech companies are having in helping travel sellers to maximise potential selling opportunities.

The research, 'Travel Tech: maximising revenue across the traveller's journey', observes why Ireland is a hotbed for travel tech, how poor digital experiences are weakening the joy of travel, why retailers need to tap into travellers' second wallets, why cloud and machine learning are at the core of complete retailing and why content is king and data the power behind the throne.

Ireland is certainly one of technology's most active and creative start-up hubs. The country is home to more than 70 innovative travel tech firms, including start-ups, early stage, and established businesses. This links well to its aviation heritage, which includes the birthplace of airport Duty Free, extends to the aircraft leasing business and includes more than a handful of world-renowned airline CEOs.

But, many believe that technology is not currently delivering on consumer expectations. Despite the drive for travel research and bookings to be seamless, half of airline passengers say they are spending more time than they'd like using digital channels.

CHART - Travellers are saying it takes more time to plan and book trips online now than in the pastSource: 'Travel Tech: maximising revenue across the traveller's journey' report

The report says that travellers are saying it takes more time to plan and book trips online now than in the past. That figure for online air bookings is put at 50% or more of passengers in the US, UK, Germany, Spain, and China. Hotels fare only slightly better; on average, 45% of the hotel guests believe they spend too much time planning and booking a hotel stay.

The report says that 70% or more of travellers in the US, UK, Germany, Spain, and China want to receive personalised offers from travel sellers, but not even one in five say they receive offers that reflect their interests, travel behaviours, or stage in their lives. In general, travellers firmly believe other industries do a much better job of personalising offers than airlines and hotels.

According to the report's author, independent and objective travel industry market research firm, Atmosphere Research Group, more than four in five travellers in the US, UK, Germany, Spain and China establish budgets that cover their leisure trips' transportation, lodging, ground transportation, and meals.

As such, it calls on travel suppliers to think more about customers' "second wallet" and their supplemental budgets for affordable extravagances. "It's this second wallet that often funds travellers' ancillary product purchases such as fast-track security, seat or room upgrades, or a spa treatment," it explains. But, it warns that airlines and hotels "can't sit back and expect travellers to open their second wallets without working for it".

What does this mean for the customer? Well, retailers needs to offer a broad, relevant mix of products. And when we say retailers that also includes airlines and hotels. This opens the door to what the report describes as the "era of complete retailing" and the "fourth and most recent, though certainly not final, stage" of travel's retailing evolution that began in the early 2000s.

Complete retailing is defined as "the ability for a travel seller to dynamically create, price, publish, and sell relevant, personalised, appealing offers, whether as a proactive 'push' or a response to a traveller's request, and manage the order's creation, purchase, payment, and fulfilment across any channel and platform."

This together with so much competition and the ongoing threat of new entrants to the market, customers many now finally reap the benefits of "interactions versus transactions", explains Máire P Walsh, SVP digital technologies at Enterprise Ireland.

Describing the big changes expected to disrupt the future of travel tech this year she explains that with heightened competition and a race to earn customers and their loyalty, companies will need to innovate further around customer experiences that are more meaningful and encapsulate every stage of a trip.

"The companies that put the customer first, drive personalisation, know what the customer wants before they know it themselves - truly be customer first - will ultimately win," she says. And that could see the customer finally being crowned king in the retail experience!