The future of travel - 'consumer and tech trends are merging', but it is a 'virtuous circle'

11 December, 2019

The travel business continues to evolve, and many believe it is currently at a key stage of its transformation. Technology is one of the key drivers of this metamorphosis. It is a “virtuous circle,” explains travel technology specialist Amadeus. “As the technology gets better, what we can do with it gets better, the travel experience improves.”

What was once seen as science fiction is now a reality. But, it is not just about increasing technology deployment. The human touch remains as, even increasingly, important in this process. As Amadeus has highlighted in the publication of its top ten travel trends for 2020 there is a trend towards consumer and tech trends merging. “Many consumer trends are powered by technology; many tech innovations are inspired by consumers,” it says.

We are already seeing the benefit of technology adoption through the travel process. While, some of us remain a little sceptical at this stage, the efficiency benefits are already proven. Technology is already deeply rooted across most stages of the travel, even before we have booked a journey.

“The processes we strive to improve are end-to-end, starting at the inspiration stage, running through the search, book and pay phase while accompanying the traveller during the journey itself,” explains Amadeus.

Each touchpoint is an opportunity for technology leaders such as Amadeus to help improve the experience, to make each interaction better for the traveller every time, from the search result response times to biometric boarding and mobile check-out.

“Our development roadmap is based around the traveller experience, but we also try to pre-empt travellers’ needs by observing technology and consumer trends across a number of regions and industries,” says Amadeus.

But, what does it foresee for the year ahead? Here are its top ten travel trends for 2020:

You've got mail - using AI and machine learning to communicate with customers
Airlines, hotels and travel agents need to be available 24/7 on whatever channel the customer wants to use at the time. Fortunately, the chatbot landscape is changing, with chatbots now able to ‘learn’ much more. Connecting the chatbot technology to internal data sources and layering in some machine learning means bots improve over time, learning more about how best to answer the queries it receives.
Takeaway: “Bots are learning how to help customers book and manage travel.”

If it's not online, it never happened - social media influence when booking travel
Today, smartphone cameras mean anyone can take and publish photographs while on a trip. Point, click, upload, share. Specific photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest are home to billions of images. “#travel” has been used nearly half a billion times on Instagram alone. Travel firms need to take an interest in these platforms because it is where their customers are.
Takeaway: “Photo platforms are not just about inspiration, they can drive conversion.”

Higher ground - sustainability and conscious travel
Travel and aviation has a major consumer PR crisis to address in 2020 – fighting the perception that the industry is the bad guy of the climate crisis. No-one in the industry is ignorant of our responsibilities to the planet, but travellers are not only questioning our response to the crisis but also factoring in sustainability when choosing how and with whom to travel.
Takeaway: “Many customers think travel is bad for the planet. The industry needs to provide factual information about the impact of travel and find ways to travel without polluting".

A million ways to pay - fintech innovation and alternative payment methods
Travel is a big-ticket purchase, and consumers expect the payment process to be seamless, speedy and secure. With a selection of credit and/or debit cards in our physical wallet and apps such as PayPal comprising our digital wallet, travellers expect to be able to choose how to pay for their flights and hotels.
Takeaway: “If the guest can’t pay for the product and service on offer, there is no point offering it.”

Going solo - a rise in single travel
Being single has traditionally been seen as a temporary situation until the right person comes along, although that perception is changing and there is less stigma attached to being “self-partnered”. Marriage rates are declining and the singles population – those never married and those divorced – is growing in volume and as a percentage of the population.
Takeaway: “Travel firms should provide for rather than discriminate against people travelling on their own.”

Machines can't replace the human touch - humanity is crucial to creating experiences
Technology cannot exist without human interactions - the most sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms are only as good as the data scientists who program them. Machine learning might lead us towards autonomous technology, but, even then there is a need for humans to define how and what the machine learns.
Takeaway: “Technology’s prime directive is to make travel better.”

(Travel) Pillow talk - voice assistants to transform travel in 2020
The accuracy rates for voice recognition and natural language processing have been at 95%-plus for a few years now. Today, consumer products such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s HomeHub, plus those offered specifically for China, have made talking to a computer a way of life for tens of millions of people.
Takeaway: “As voice-based digital interactions become commonplace in the home, travellers will expect the same from their providers.”

Super apps - big potential to drive travel sales
The idea of a super-app for travel has been around for a while. Amadeus thinks this idea will rise to prominence over the next few years for two reasons – the open source/API/partnership landscape means it is possible to integrate all the feeds into a super-app and customers are warming to the idea. In fact, to some extent, the super-app already exists in APAC, where e-commerce giants have built multi-purpose platforms.
Takeaway: “Travellers like the idea of a super-app, so the industry should start to think about how best to deliver this.”

Fairweather friends - why old rules don't apply to traveller loyalty
Travellers live in a multi-device, multi-channel world, where access to travel content is widespread and fragmented, where consolidation is rife and where value is more important than price. In this context, loyalty to a particular brand or destination, when there is so much choice only a click away - seems to belong to another age.
Takeaway: “Loyalty is a hard ask, but retaining customers is better than trying to win new ones.”

Get real - VR will enhance travel experience dramatically in 2020
Virtual reality is another trend which is likely to move from the side-lines to centre stage in the near future, according to Amadeus. Offline retail agents have been experimenting with Virtual Reality (VR) headsets in-store, using them as a promotional vehicle for resorts and destinations. Airlines have even been trialling them both on the ground and in the air.
Takeaway: “VR headsets are coming soon to a cabin or lounge near you.”