Responses to the economic and global challenges of the last few years have changed how businesses interact with and adopt technology, for the long haul. A recent study by McKinsey & Company suggests that companies across all sectors and industries have dramatically accelerated the digitisation of their customer and supply chain interactions - some by as much as three or four years. The adoption of digitally enabled products has accelerated by seven years - and in the case of Asia, as much as ten years.
There is a narrative shift occurring within many industries, where technology is not only recognised for its ability to offer cost efficient ways of working; but is recognised as a critical component of a business itself. Of course, the increase of technological solutions or advantages is not news - but what is illuminating is the weight being placed on technology to cater for demand, to replace outdated modes of communication with customers and curate more efficient, personalised experiences for consumers.
Many of the changes we’re seeing in usage of digital products are likely here for the long term, including:
- Changing customer demands or expectations - such as, for example, increasing online communication/purchasing
- Increasing migration of cloud-based assets
- Increasing use of advanced technologies within business operations - such as artificial intelligence, automation and analytics.
So, in relation to the travel industry, this becomes an increasingly interesting and important question of how can travel providers ensure they’re meeting the needs of customers in a digital landscape? And also, what are some of the ways that advanced technology is already shaping interactions between travellevers and travel distributors?
Data Usage To Create Personalised Experiences
Personalisation is one of the key consumer trends that all industries are seeing, not just travel, and it’s something that will continue to shape the considerations of travel providers globally. Especially given that, according to Google, 57% of US travellers think that brands and service providers should tailor the information provided based on personal preferences and past behaviours - and that was several years ago. Now, personalisation and using customer data and analytics to do so is critical.
Customer data means there is more opportunity to personalise travel experiences, plus, and provide a more rounded, connected experience for the customer. In fact, 13% of all attendees at our 2023 MarketHub Americas event suggested that they were planning on offering more personalised services, with 11% planning to create and use more data to do so.
By collecting customer data and combining this with powerful tools like predictive analytics, travel distributors and travel tech companies can better predict customer behaviour, trends in the market, and keep ahead in this fast-paced industry.
McKinsey & Company also suggest that brands will increasingly use ‘ecosystems’ to personalise journeys from beginning to end - meaning that personalisation for customers won’t stop when they arrive in their destination or at their hotel, but continue in partnering ecosystems which include the restaurants they eat in, the bars and clubs and shops they visit during their stay. Doing so requires customer data, to build out these ecosystems using past behaviours and customer preferences, to build an infrastructure of travel providers which is connected enough to offer wide-reaching customer service, which even includes their in-destination experiences!
This focus on analytics within tourism is something that we at Hotelbeds are dedicating our energy to. The customer data available through the distribution of activities within our global network, for example, allows our partners to obtain additional information about customers and as our CEO Nicolas Huss explained at our MarketHub Europe event, ‘by knowing who they [customers] are, it is easier to meet their needs.’
Our Compass Pro is an ideal example of how we at Hotelbeds utilise customer data, but delivered in an anonymised, market-centric way, to provide key insights and allowing our partners to:
- Identify trending destinations and booking patterns specific to your market.
- Refine their searches with time-saving filters to better cater to specific client needs.
- Create personalised marketing materials to capture client interest and increase the likelihood of booking.
Using market-based data in this way, and combined with technology that enables our partners to meet customer preferences and learn from those, is one of the ways that we at Hotelbeds are working to maximise on the opportunities that using customer data offers without compromising on client experience or personal data security.
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As much as 8% of global CO2 emissions are produced nowadays by activities in the Tourism sector (transportation, construction, catering, services, land promotion activities, etc.); while UNWTO suggests that around 2% of this is directly produced by the hospitality industry. Recent insight from CBRE indicated the urgency for hospitality and leisure establishments to reduce carbon footprints compared to other real estate classifications, with hotel carbon emissions at 96kgCO2e/m².
And although there has been tangible progress to reduce carbon footprints in order to meet the terms of the globally recognised Paris Agreement, there is still much work that can be done not only to ensure the development of their business, but to keep in line with the fact that sustainability is now, by necessity, a guiding principle of the travel industry.
Here are just a few examples of sustainable technology which hotels around the world are adopting:
- Operational systems: such as Energy Management Systems (EMS), Guest Room Management Systems (GRMS), Property Management Systems (PMS), and Building Management Systems (BMS).
- Online check-in and automated ticket management for guest requests.
- Digitised communications and collaboration technology: for shareholders, corporate communications and even for guests, to reduce the carbon footprint that comes with printed or physical resources.
- Renewable sources of energy: solar or photovoltaic, to lower the impact of high-consumption services like air conditioning.
- Artificial Intelligence and software solutions: to reduce food wastage, by tracking food production and inventory, as demonstrated by the innovative partnership between The Iberostar Group and Winnows AI to become carbon neutral.
Why Is Sustainable Technology Important?
As we explored in our discussion about the traveller of tomorrow, one of the most valuable and influential traveller profiles for the travel industry as a whole is Gen Z. The move towards sustainable travel is loudly supported by Gen Z most notably; though Millennial travellers also suggest that the ecological impact of transport, accommodation and activities is influential on their travel booking decisions. According to Google Insights, over half of surveyed travellers suggested that environmental and sustainable considerations were essential to them when planning travel.
And after all, the guests of the future will be Gen Z and Gen Alpha (the children of Millennial families) and considering their status as the ‘voice of sustainability’, so catering for the values and preferences of this vast travel segment is critical for a hotel to remain relevant and successful, and for the industry as a whole.
VR As A Marketing Tool
Virtual Reality (VR) offers travel providers and travel sellers all over the world to build a sensory experience of a destination, attraction, or activity, which can then be used to ‘complement, or supplant traditional promotional tools’, much like printed travel brochures for example.
Similarly to the ways that VR saw such significant success during COVID-19 as a result of its immersive nature, which allowed users to experience new destinations or take virtual tours of attractions around the world from the comfort of their home, VR allows potential travellers to make a more connected judgement of a new destination, hotel or tourism experience. It offers them a chance to more intrinsically understand what will be offered to them, and therefore influence the decision making process and make interested travellers more likely to book.
Some real life examples of successful VR marketing include:
- Unveiled at Fitur 2023, Amadeus announced plans to offer virtual experiences and previews of trips for travellers to travel agencies with its ‘Triportation’ program. This innovative development will provide a mix of ‘VR, AI and metaverse’ to enhance the travel experience at critical moments in the booking journey.
- The use of a VR web portal (Bihor360) was used to successfully promote sustainable tourism in Romania, with positive effects on the awareness, protection and conservation of historical and cultural monuments.
We anticipate that the use of virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) will only grow as travellers become more acquainted and expectant of this sort of technology throughout the travel booking process, from inspiring them at the ‘dreaming’ stage through to when they jet off.
Customer-Centric Artificial Intelligence
As the demand for travel continues to expand, and customers of all demographics are more expectant of digital processes in their daily lives, travel providers must dramatically rethink how they’re ensuring customer satisfaction.
Of course, artificial intelligence itself has existed for many years, but it is only recently being integrated into businesses at a higher rate. And while the use of machine learning and AI does present some logistical challenges, the potential of this type of tech cannot be ignored. However the hospitality industry in particular needs to ensure that there is a careful balance between the ease and efficiency of automation, and the need to deliver unique, personalised experiences for today’s traveller.
The most promise in this realm lies with features like intelligent Chatbots - which use natural language processing (NLP) to accurately respond and engage with users.
Chatbots allow businesses to cater to a wide range of customer requests from pre-booking enquiries to post-booking assistance. And considering that, as suggested by research from Meta, around seven out of ten customers feel ‘closer’ to businesses that offer messaging options, and 65% consumers prefer contacting businesses via chat.
From pre-booking enquiries to post-booking assistance, Chatbots offer:
- A direct channel of communication from customer to business, simplifying the way that customers used to contact travel providers in the past.
- Seamless customer service - when implemented correctly.
- The ability to gather crucial data - allowing businesses to learn about their customer needs to better meet them.
Our CEO Nicolas Huss, suggests that technology like chatbots allows travel distributors to ‘provide an elevated personalised experience by remembering preferences and automatically implementing them each time an individual books their next trip.’
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VR and AR Experiences For Travellers
From immersive galleries, museums and exhibitions from the likes of techLab, with locations all over the world, the to mixed reality playgrounds of technology-driven installations from companies like Meow Wolf in the USA, and VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) games from Gamebox in London, the way that travellers engage with technology in-destination is changing. AR is fast becoming easily accessible in major destinations globally, and even theme parks like Super Nintendo World are bringing guests a wide range of immersive activities, rides and exploration spaces.
But what is emerging is a whole new way for travellers to discover their destinations of choice, with app-based VR and AR experiences paving the way for a whole new realm of tourism where travellers’ experiences are enriched with interactive technology.
For example, in Japan Kumamon Land is the result of a collaboration between Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture and a leading tech-organisation and marketing agency, to offer an app-based metaverse space where users can explore a virtual landscape inspired by the real-life destination of Kumamoto. Meanwhile Singapore’s National Heritage Board released BALIKSG, an augmented reality trail app that offers immersive trail routes where travellers can discover the country’s history through the use of augmented reality. Qatar Airways also recently launched Qverse, which is an immersive experience offering travellers the chance to navigate the Hamad International Airport, check in, and even interact with ‘Sama’ - a MetaHuman cabin crew!
These explorations into all-new travel tech challenge the previously separate worlds of virtual and augmented reality and travel, breaking down boundaries within the travel experience.
Smart Hotel Technology
From mobile check-in and smart room technology to new tech partnerships that cater to the everyday needs of travellers, many hotels are broadening their horizons in terms of the facilities on offer for increasingly digital-product expectant travellers.
A smart hotel can be defined by its ability to offer customers the ability to operate devices and services through either Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) or digital connectivity. This could include smart room technology such as voice control, energy efficiency, facial recognition and automation. In-room technology could also be controlled by apps and mobile devices, such as guests adjusting air temperature, lighting and air conditioning through app-based platforms or smart metres.
Smart hotel technology is also a crucial development for the advancement of customer experience, as the appropriate collection of customer data during a stay, processed via AI machine learning, could help hotels learn more about customer preferences and curate an even more bespoke experience. Even investing in cloud-based technologies could simplify operations, reduce staffing needs, and provide a better guest experience.
To further help create a frictionless experience for the traveller we have also recently partnered with Wayra, an open innovation centre within telecom company Telefonica, to create the TravelTech Lab by Hotelbeds, an initiative which supports tech startups and actively change the way that tomorrow's travellers move, connect and explore. This collaboration allows us to innovate with start-up partners to deliver customer-centric experiences through the creation of products, platforms and services that have a high impact in the world of travel.
What are some other real-life examples of tech partnerships within the hotel industry?
- Marriott International recently partnered with Groups360 to streamline the process of booking rooms, meeting spaces and events for its corporate guests.
- The Maho Group, offering hotels and resorts in the Caribbean, is working with Cendyn to power its CRM, revenue management and business intelligence, offering personalised experiences to encourage customer loyalty by tracking individual guests’ preferences.
- IHG Hotel and Resorts partnered with PPDS to offer Chromecast in select locations, providing guests with the ability to stream content from their smart devices.
- Hilton also recently partnered with Amadeus’s distribution system, to better share valuable information to scale operations more effectively.
The benefit of a diverse distribution strategy also cannot be overstated when it comes to increasing exposure and relevance within the travel space - especially the high-value B2B marketplace. And with a global portfolio of 150 source markets, and over 300 properties in trending destinations worldwide, at Hotelbeds we’re in a prime position to take your travel distribution even further.
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