Guest Post: How Covid has accelerated digital transformation in travel

Guest Post: How Covid has accelerated digital transformation in travel

Publicis Sapient’s Nick Shay on how firms can continue their digital transformation to prepare for pent-up demand for travel

Following his appearance on a Travolution Summit panel Nick Shay, head of travel and hospitality at Publicis Sapient says travel firms must get ready for a more digital future

During the pandemic, many travel companies have put budgets on hold and reduced their operating costs. It’s an understandable response.

But given that COVID-19 has accelerated our use of digital, how can firms continue their digital transformation journey to prepare for and capitalize on increasingly pent-up demand for travel?

I have always believed that travel is one of the great privileges offered to us, whether it be for business, leisure or to re-unite with loved ones.

2020 was no different. During the Summer and true to form, many who were able took advantage of the easing in travel restrictions and snuck away to sunnier shores.

When restrictions finally lift for good, pent-up demand for leisure travel will be the catalyst this challenged industry needs to bounce back.

Whilst we all wrestle with the question of when, the one certain thing companies must do is prepare themselves now.

It is not enough to simply survive the current crisis with a mopped brow; firms must continue to get ready for a world that is inherently more digital than it was yesterday.

Whilst the pandemic didn’t create the need for digital transformation, it has accelerated it. Exponentially.

In the fog of the pandemic, we must also remember that we were seeing a lot of disruption in travel prior to COVID-19 – companies were beginning to realize they need to prepare for a digital future. The virus has amplified that.

Over the last few months, internet usage has soared, broadband providers have removed data caps and more people are working from home; ZOOM Inc has seen a 2,900% increase in its’ user base.

Social media usage has increased, and WhatsApp usage has doubled. Not to mention our growing obsession with the streaming giants: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple…

For travel companies this means digital can no longer be a channel by which to distribute inventory, it has to go far deeper than that and sit at the core of these businesses and be integral to their engagement with guests and passengers.

Whilst this in itself is not particularly new, what is new is that the pandemic has raised these expectations further.

Not only are people looking for, and demanding great experiences, but they crave re-assurance more than ever.

Recent research shows that health and safety is now top of mind for travelers, meaning strong communication and contactless experiences will fuel the future of travel and dining by helping to restore consumer confidence where it’s needed most.

And whilst I write this with some certainty, the dynamic nature of the pandemic means things change on a daily basis.

This means the future of travel will also be determined by the brands that can adapt fast enough to create it.

Are we going back into lockdown, are we not? Can we fly, can we not fly? Will we have to quarantine, will we not?

Will we have testing on arrival, will we not? Can we eat out, can we not? Which countries are on the safe list, which are not?

Companies will have to become far more flexible and agile than ever before to deal with changing conditions, evolving government guidelines and volatile demand.

This is not temporary. We will not go back to the way things once were, and travel and hospitality has been changed forever.

For the foreseeable future we will likely see a rise in domestic tourism and that’s a prime opportunity that must be captured now.

Let’s also acknowledge that digital transformation is incredibly hard, it can take a long time and not all companies get it right.

Established companies in particular, that have been so successful over the years, often struggle as they were not built for the digital era. It’s time for them to become a lot nimbler and move with the times.

However, there is a silver lining. Digital represents a huge opportunity for the travel industry to not only streamline businesses further but to deepen relationships with customers and build for the future.

There are a number of key digital imperatives for companies right now in light of the pandemic.

  1. Start the cultural transformation journey required to become more digital and to be able to move faster
  2. Review your strategy for in-sourcing, outsourcing and co-creating
  3. Review your existing initiatives and re-prioritize based on value, whether they be revenue generating, cost saving or based on other key value metrics. Deprioritise initiatives not tied to value
  4. Leverage cloud, automation and AI to reduce the cost of run operations and thus create opportunities to invest further in digital
  5. Increase your release frequency
  6. Implement a customer data strategy that removes existing silos in data and creates a 360-customer view
  7. Use 360 data to drive more meaningful communications with customers and to secure short and/or long-term bookings
  8. Connect journeys across all relevant touchpoints including online, the contact centre and physical touchpoints
  9. Create and implement a strategy for contactless experience
  10. Review and prioritise initiatives to selectively consolidate and modernize legacy IT.

In an industry where many companies are fighting for survival, there is no doubt that becoming leaner and more efficient will be top of many corporate agendas.

But so should be getting closer to customers and providing re-assurance by delivering relevant and appropriate experiences. These are the companies that will survive long-term.

‘How’ they do it is critical: identifying value for both the business and its customers and delivering it. Fast.

Travel will inevitably bounce back, but the companies that bounce back with it are those that prepare now.