As flights were canceled in record numbers and borders began to close, the travel industry, among so many others, was transformed overnight by COVID-19. The onset of the pandemic coincided with an ongoing digital transformation of travel and hospitality, and today, as the industry recovers, that transformation becomes more critical than ever.
From the advent of mobile border passes to the rise of the online travel agency (OTA), technology has changed the way consumers plan, pay for and take trips. Even after a traveler has returned home, technology extends the journey by providing ways to leave reviews, share memories, and start saving and planning for the next adventure. Now, at a time when mobile options are increasingly used and consumers are looking for technology to help them in their daily lives, travel and hospitality brands have the opportunity to make themselves relevant from competitors by adopting the latest trends in digital transformation.
These are what to me the latest transformational trends for the travel and hospitality industries, and this is how innovation in customer experiences has evolved on both sides of this developing market.
Innovation in travel customer experience vs. hospitality
While technological innovation is impacting both the travel and hospitality sectors, there are several distinctions between these two sides of the industry. Flights, trains and automobiles are often seen as a means to an end, providing a fair connection between destinations. Meanwhile, hotels and other brands in the hospitality sector can be perceived as an overall experience, as travelers can spend several days or even several weeks at the same property while on business or vacation. These differences mean that travel and hospitality brands may have slightly different goals for transforming the travel experience for their customers. Where travel brands could focus more on improving booking and check-in experiences, hospitality brands could look for ways to use technology to generate self-service content to help with customer questions before or during their stay.
A 2020 report from Skift found that 43% of surveyed travel brands said it was “much more” important for their organization to move forward with digital transformation than they had started before the pandemic. On both sides of the industry, consumers expect a similar, effortless experience tailored to their travel needs. They are looking for efficiency, safe travel, and friendly staff who will guide and help them on their way. With the latest technologies in place, both travel and hospitality brands can meet these goals, improve customer experience outcomes, and drive loyalty that will inspire future visits and referrals. Four of the latest transformative trends in travel For several years, the mobile experience has dominated travel brands’ approach to digital transformation. The pandemic caused many airlines and other brands to quickly shift operations to rely more on technology in hopes of slowing the spread of disease and making travel easier for travelers and staff alike. On the travel and hospitality side of the industry, which includes airlines, trains and rental cars, technology has contributed to many advancements that aid in the traveler experience.
Reservations and changes
When it comes to booking or changing reservations, mobile apps and sites have completely transformed the modern traveler’s experience. Customers now have control over their reservations in their hands and can quickly make updates without interacting with a customer service agent. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), customers can even interact with chatbots that can answer common questions about their travel experience, such as rebooking or adding a stop to an existing reservation.
Some airlines use their app technology to allow travelers to choose their seats when booking their reservations. Airline apps often also provide a passenger standby list, which travelers can monitor while waiting to board a flight.
For passengers who have tight connections between flights or who have missed a flight due to a delay, the advent of social media technologies for airlines and other brands can provide considerable benefits. Social media customer support options allow customers to quickly access help, whether through AI or an agent, further improving the customer experience and the overall travel experience as well.
Electronic boarding passes
While mobile boarding passes have been around for a while now, their usefulness and innovation was further demonstrated in 2020 and 2021. Mobile boarding passes equipped with QR codes that can be scanned while passing through security or boarding a flight, reduce the need for customers to interact with an agent at check-in to print tickets.
Five of the latest transformative trends in hospitality
For hospitality brands, digital transformation has helped improve guest stays at hotel properties, inspiring brand loyalty over time. In addition to assisting in the reservation process and offering options for customer service on social media, technology has created several other ways to optimize the hospitality experience.
Check-in and check-out processes
Thanks to digital transformation, the check-in and check-out process no longer has to occur at the hotel front desk. Online check-in streamlines the customer service journey and allows for an easier experience.
Digital locks are another technological advancement that has improved the traveler experience. Guests no longer need to rummage through luggage to produce a key when they return to their room and can instead simply scan their phone at the door.
Hotel brands can use self-service content to help guests with any questions they may have before or during their stay, empowering customers and assisting customer service agents if a guest requires additional help.
Personalization of the travel experience
Speaking of personalization, customer data and analytics provided by these technologies can help hotel brands better understand their customers’ needs and improve their experience in the future. Data points such as customer reservations, post-stay ratings, or even dining preferences can provide brands with the information needed to create a more distinctive and memorable stay for guests, encouraging them to return for their next trip. Increasingly, the travel experience will be subject to technology to drive it, as customers will rely on AI and other technologies to help them navigate the challenges associated with today’s travel.