Big Interview: COVID crisis was the mother of reinvention for travel

Big Interview: COVID crisis was the mother of reinvention for travel

Travel industry lead for Accenture, Emily Weiss, spoke to Travolution about a shift to perpetual 'total enterprise reinvention' prompted by the pandemic  

Travel businesses have been among the fastest to embrace ‘total enterprise reinvention’ as they emerge from the COVID pandemic, according to global consultancy giant Accenture.

Speaking to Travolution during a recent visit to London, Emily Weiss Accenture’s senior managing director global industry travel sector lead, said firms are setting their sights on growth. 

She said this is seeing a switch to continual “compressed transformation” as companies embed the latest technology rather than focussing on individual internal projects. 

“We do not really talk about recovery anymore, we’re really focussing on growth and the path to the future,” said Weiss.

“We have been using the expression ‘new performance frontier’, it’s about ongoing reinvention, focusing on growth.”

With luxury leisure travel leading the vanguard out of the COVID crisis, Weiss said travel firms must focus on customer acquisition and capturing them at the inspiration phase.

“It’s about meeting the guests where they are," she says, "not trying to dictate their path in the travel journey. If they want self-service, if they want direct contact, we can enable that.

“And if they want automation and zero contact we will do that. Personalisation at scale is about data and AI, but more importantly the insights generated. It’s not a one size fits all.” 

Weiss added: “This is infusing technology, data and AI into every part of your business, reinventing mechanisms to drive growth so you are one step ahead at all times. 

“In travel there is a lot of legacy and technical debt. So it’s important you are infusing this new technology in to your landscape. We are seeing a lot of industries attack this. 

“But the travel industry was the first into this, faster than anyone else because it had to start reinventing itself in the middle of the pandemic. 

“It remains to be seen who is going to get there first and who catches up. I’m trying really hard not to have conversations looking back to 2019 anymore. 

“What we are saying is we are out of the other side of the pandemic and we are fully focussed on not just your return to growth but driving growth. 

“Big powerful companies are taking a look at all the things that they need to do to change and respond to the environment. 

“It’s asking about what is the possible, it’s beyond best practices of today, it’s looking into the future with ongoing reinvention rather than a one-time reinvention programme.

“More often than not it costs money to transform and reinvent, but that creates incremental revenue.  It’s a cycle of transformation and that should generate growth. 

“If you are investing in transforming and reinventing your enterprise you are going to be generating growth that’s incremental revenue.”

Weiss urged travel to take a leaf out of the banking sector’s book in terms of how it is supporting its customers to become more adept at self service. 

This sector even creating a next generation of physical public spaces like Capital One’s new branch concept in Manhattan which seeks to emulate the Genius Bar in Apple stores.

Some hospitality brands are looking at how to reinvent their lobby spaces to offer something similar.

In these reconfigured spaces staff, freed from routine tasks by AI, can engage customers personally and help drive ancillary business for hotel properties.

This “reimagining of the workforce” is about enabling them to “lift their heads up and engage directly with the customer”, says Weiss.

She added this instils a culture of empathy with the customer that aims to personalise at scale and allows them to choose how they would like to be serviced. 

“That’s something that travel should be learning from the banking industry,” says Weiss.

She added this ethos of perpetual reinvention also needs to extend to how companies simplify rewards programmes to drive loyalty through easier and more frequent redemption. 

And it should also be applied to sustainability, with surveys indicating that consumers are willing to pay more when they know brands are committed to embedding sustainable practices into their businesses. 

Weiss said: “Travel companies have not adopted AI to the degree that they should yet. 

“They recognise that they need it but there are very few super advanced organisations at the moment within travel. 

“Everyone recognises the importance and are embedding it. They are training their people in it and looking at which processes can be automated. 

“They are educating and informing and training their employee to be fluent in AI so they can contribute to the insights and be able to interact more directly with their guests.”

Following the pandemic the travel sector is having to “do more with less” due to restrained budgets, capacity and access to human resources, especially in tech and customer service.

Weiss said this requires greater collaboration and cooperation with solutions providers to get innovations out into the marketplace.

“Today, it’s almost like you are in co-innovation mode, working with innovative partners in the ecosystem. The industry is being disrupted. 

“We are in a period of change and everyone is feeling it. When we use the term total enterprise reinvention it’s because it’s happening everywhere.

“There’s an acknowledgment of the change that’s happening and an appetite to take advantage of the solutions that are available. 

“The more stagnant you are the more likely you are to be disrupted.”