Heikki Väänänen, founder and chief executive of experience management company HappyOrNot, discusses the changing face of travel in the 2020s.
In the coming decade, passengers will be faced with more options than ever on how to travel. With road, rail, air, and sea travel to be challenged by the arrival of self-driving and flying taxis, the margins of cost, time, ease, and comfort will be finer than ever.
As we enter the 2020s, the nature of travel is changing. Unprecedented investment into facilities, systems, and staff caters for passengers who are increasingly expecting both ease and enjoyment throughout their journey. Travel is becoming much more than simply a means of getting from point A to point B.
Airports account for some of the world’s busiest transport hubs, many serving tens of millions of passengers a year. 2020 is predicted to set new records for airport traffic, with 4.72 billion scheduled passengers globally, a 137% increase from 2004. Investment in key hubs remains crucial to meet the world’s travel demands, and the growing expectations of customer comfort.
Transport hubs are already behind some of the world’s most trailblazing customer experience innovations. Singapore Changi Airport, consistently rated one of the world’s best, is renowned for its indoor butterfly garden, a tropical habitat that is home to over 1,000 lepidopterae. Last summer, the airport opened its new $1.25 billion ‘Jewel Changi’ complex, which features the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Creating spaces in airports for customers to relax, explore, and be inspired helps develop these logistical spaces into attractions in their own right. Boasting innovative displays of art and incorporating forms of entertainment for all ages, airports are evolving into centres of culture, as well as travel hubs. The travel is already becoming about the journey as much as the destination.
As competition across the travel industry grows, investing in infrastructure, innovation, and staff will be crucial. Research has categorically shown that happy customers are more likely to spend more as they go, as well as become repeat customers. Listening to what passengers expect from the travel experience is vital to understanding what needs improving. Investment in customer experience management tools, like my company’s HappyOrNot Smiley-face solution, can help use data to pinpoint hindrances in real-time to the passenger journey, and allow strategic planning of solutions – whether this is more staff at passport control, more efficient security checks, or service with a smile around an airport.
A good example of this is Heathrow Airport, who last year announced a £50 million investment in new computed tomography (CT) security equipment that will allow passengers to travel with liquids, keeping these and their electronics in bags while going through security, thus dramatically cutting queue-times. Heathrow constantly uses data to improve its service, and so it’s clear that decisions like this aren’t made on a whim but are instead the product of listening to the customer. As travel becomes as much about the journey as the destination, the voice of the customer is growing louder and louder
Airlines, train companies, and ride-hailing services are pricking their ears as a result. With the addition of on-board WiFi, passengers can stay connected and access entertainment from the comfort of their seats. Free on-board WiFi is offered by a growing number of transport services, and will be by many more in the coming years. Other creature comforts to be added to the on-board experience include on-demand streaming, and some airlines are even exploring virtual and augmented reality as new forms of entertainment. All this to bring about smiles at every stage of the journey.
Beyond entertainment, it will become the norm for business people to utilise journey time as working hours, a comfortable seat and an internet connection becoming a remote office. General Motors and Uber are among those in the race to deploy driver-less cars. Using the latest artificial intelligence technology, self-driving cars would extend the luxury of leisure and work time for even the shortest journey. Travellers of the 2020s will want to work, watch, or play as if they were in the comfort of their own home.
In the next decade, investment in passenger experience will transcend current norms in the travel industry. New data-driven technologies will continue to revolutionise existing operations, prioritising the comfort of each individual as a ubiquitous luxury for all. The ever-increasing availability of travel that offers maximum leisure and minimal delay will become essential to all journeys – and already, the quality of the journey is having an impact on passengers choice of destination.