|By Laureen Fagan||
|April 9, 2017 01:00 PM EDT||
What do Delta, United, Marriott and National Car Rental all have in common? They're some of the most popular and highest-rated brands among business travelers, according to Certify, and companies are working hard to ensure that their business clientele - and their tourism and leisure travel guests - are having the customer experience that boosts their brand and bottom line.
The same goes for travel booking companies too, and they're increasingly turning to cloud-based services and mobile technologies to keep their customer satisfaction and brand reputation first in a competitive marketplace. What companies like TripAdvisor, HotelsCombined or Airbnb have in common is a strong online presence boosted by technology investments.
Travel Companies Investing in People and Technology
In order to do that, though, companies need to invest in both the people and the technology to make their travel sites as much a "destination" as, say, the extended-stay hotels with staff that speaks Mandarin or the pet-friendly resorts for travelers who won't leave any beloved adventurer behind.
One smart site feature is the video or virtual reality tour, which helps people to make decisions they feel better about because they're rooted in experience and a "seeing is believing" that goes beyond a static photo of, say, a bed in a room that looks like any other. Marriott has been exploring the VR concept, while others focus along the continuum of the customer experience with "provocative design," an intentional moment created for guests to share on social media and advance marketing efforts through user-generated content on Instagram. Still others - including the Wyndham Hotel Group - are looking at optimal Wi-Fi, mobile check-in and other technologies that advance their loyalty programs in new ways.
"It's actually for the human factor because our guests are telling us they want to live in our hotels the same way they live at home," says Elie Maalouf, CEO for the Americas at InterContinental, in a recent USA Today interview. Their investments in cloud-based connectivity make it possible for customers to have a seamless experience, but the technology also is helping to cut operational costs at properties. In part, that means mobile platforms for checking in, choosing rooms, ordering food and other features.
Other tools, like Google Flights or HotelsCombined.com, a metasearch engine that maximizes the booking journey with all the information they need to know, continue to evolve with the market by investing in the development of new apps and features that go beyond simple search and price comparison. So do products like Airbnb, with its nontraditional approach to accommodation but the additional option of "experiences" featured on its site, many geared toward social good activism, favorite hobbies or tour preferences, arts packages or nature and wellness tours.
It's not just that you'll book a clean room in Cape Town anymore; your host promises to deliver a set of experiences including a photo history walk, cooking class and backstage VIP treatment at the jazz club. Those experiences, too, are facilitated by the technology that's changing the tourism and travel industry.
Personalized Service Is Driven by Data
As with other industries, mobile-first is the priority. More people than ever are researching their flights and accommodations on smartphones or tablets, and then finalizing their plans on the mobile device or the desktop. HotelsCombined has invested in apps designed to maximize the hotel booking experience on both desktop and mobile. "HotelsCombined noticed the shift toward mobile bookings back in 2014 and invested heavily in developing our mobile product to ensure we provided customers with the same experience that they would get on desktop," said Chris Rivett, Travel Expert at HotelsCombined. "Since then we have seen mobile bookings continue to grow year on year, while desktop bookings have decreased. We believe that this number will continue to rise as more and more people embrace a mobile or tablet as their primary device."
According to HotelsCombined research, hotel searches on mobile grew 137 percent in 2016, 25 percent more than seen on desktop.
"I think what travel and tourism means has evolved, and so have those experiences in a highly connected world," said Roman Kowalski, Vice President of Marketing at TravelGearLab.com. "The industry saw that first revolution 15 or 20 years ago, when planning your trip became something that didn't always require a travel agent, although certainly for some situations like cruises people often still want the best expertise. The deals were on Expedia or Kayak, and the affected industries - airlines, hotels, car rentals - all were forced to step up their own presence too."
Data analytics plays a growing role in understanding who your customers are and what they're going to want in travel experience. While many travelers are accustomed to mobile boarding passes and flight check-ins, those innovations are only the beginning.
In Europe, for example, the high-end Rimowa luggage company has launched a partnership with German carrier Lufthansa so that clients can essentially check their baggage without waiting because their cases are fitted with electronic tags. They also know where that bag is at all times, so the stress over running-late check-ins or lost luggage is a thing of the past. The app-enabled digital solution is also being tested with United and some regional airlines.
In the same way, hotels may already know which amenities an incoming guest is likely to prefer, and what beverage or cuisine options most interest them. That kind of personalized service is what many guests find exceptional - and all of them will come to expect - but it's also a smart revenue-generating move to understand the timing and customer preferences.
It's not that people don't want to talk to humans about their experience, although plenty of people prefer the ease and autonomy of mobile-driven solutions for choosing a flight and vehicle rental package. For many people, though, even routine business travel is enhanced by experiential encounters with unique cultures and people. They don't want to mediate that through technology, any more than they'd choose a chain restaurant instead of local cuisine at a well-recommended restaurant that captures the local flavor. What the cloud-based options are giving tourism companies the power to do, is to help facilitate those discoveries.
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