George Maroufidis, travel lead at ECOMMPAY says the shifting technological landscape has had unexpected consequences
Modern technology has made travellers more fickle than ever before. The explosion of ecommerce, and an increasingly app-based travel industry has given them unparalleled choice.
In the old days, a traveller’s journey began with a venture down to their nearest travel agent, where they could build a personal familiarity with the people on staff and keep coming back as a result.
Nowadays, though, holidaymakers are far more likely to look for potential holiday destinations through Google than with the help of a travel agent, and to find their flights and accommodation through Expedia and AirBnB, whose presentation — merely presenting a list of available options from every possible operator, usually with the cheapest at the top — means clients are often hardly aware of who they’re even booking with.
Travel marketing for the modern consumer
The tech explosion has changed the face of travel in record time. The sudden growth of virtual reality (VR) technology — from the beefy, desktop-bound HTC Vive to the smartphone-based Gear VR — is already impacting how travellers, well, travel. While it’s habitual for holidaymakers to check out their potential destinations on Google Street View, some companies are taking this one step further with fully-realised, tailored VR experiences.
Best Western customers can explore their hotel rooms with a VR headset before they get there, while Qantas offers clients VR jaunts to Australia’s most picturesque hotspots. Getting ahead of the VR curve could be invaluable for building brand loyalty; as the technology develops and becomes more widespread, tourists may increasingly expect travel operators to provide VR samples of the accommodation and destinations they provide.
The other technological initialism that’s defining marketing in the modern era is AI. The application of machine learning to travel marketing is enabling operators to tap into consumers’ wants and needs with more specificity and accuracy than ever. Where once consumers would build up a relationship with a travel agent, who would make recommendations based on their personal familiarity, browser cookies and machine learning means online travel operators can offer tailored experiences to clients from the first time they arrive at their website.
Rather than throwing up a whole host of options and hoping one of them applies, AI allows travel companies to, say, offer a range of holidays in the Alps to a customer whose advertising preferences note a hobby for skiing. Offering a personalised experience to your consumers throughout the booking process, from their hotel room to their flight home, is vital to maintaining their loyalty.
Tailoring the customer journey
That personalised experience isn’t limited to computer screens, either. Consumers need to be able to access tailored content on all of their preferred devices, and it needs to be equally well-presented and easy-to-use on each. Mobile, in particular, should be as smooth an experience as possible, as more and more business revolves around apps and purchases made on the go. In fact, over half of internet traffic worldwide comes from mobile phones these days, making user-friendly, personalised mobile experiences absolutely necessary.
But the growing dominance of mobile doesn’t mean travel providers can afford slack when it comes to their other engagement channels. The rapid proliferation of diverse tech means travellers interact with companies through an increasingly diffuse array of means these days. An ad served on mobile might lead to research on laptop and a booking on a home PC. But all the ad-generated interest in the world won’t count for much if customers can’t navigate around your desktop website’s search function. Being able to unify those experiences, making them as cohesive as possible for individual customers, is the hallmark of a successful business in 2018.
Nurturing customer loyalty in the digital age
Changes in payment technology are leaving their mark on travel, too. Travellers want an experience as secure as handing over cash in a brick-and-mortar establishment, and they want it regardless of whether they’re using credit cards, Apple Pay, or an EFT payment. The catch is that they want it to be as simple as a cash transaction, too. Companies worried about balancing speed and simplicity with security will be relieved to hear that it’s possible to achieve both.
It might seem like technological growth has made consumer loyalty much harder to maintain, but it has provided incredible new avenues for loyalty retention at the same time. Tech like AI and VR means savvy companies have more opportunities to wow their potential clients, keeping them coming back to the provider that knows all their likes and dislikes, and that offers them opportunities to go on a tour before they go on their tour. The truth is, tech hasn’t made consumer loyalty an impossibility, it’s just changed the challenges involved.