Take a minute to imagine that you’ve just arrived in Barcelona (or Bangkok, London, Perth, you choose). You’ve got just 12 hours before your connecting flight. Do you reach for your guidebook and search out the tourist information office? Of course not – feasible options a decade ago but not in this digital age. You turn to your mobile, the device on which most of us run our lives on today.
There, waiting for you is a welcome message, along the lines of:
“Welcome to Barcelona, Robert. Anything planned for those 12 hours of layover here?
The Picasso Museum opens in one hour. Tap here to take a virtual tour and book your ticket to avoid the queue.
By the time you’re done, some of the best vegetarian Catalonian restaurants are within a ten-minute walk. Check out some of their special offers, and click on whichever one takes your fancy to make a reservation.
“Oh by the way, traffic is not looking very good right now, we suggest you take the metro. Tap here for directions.
“Next train leaves in ten minutes – swipe right to get your ticket.”
The tips can continue giving the user a whole host of relevant options and information tailored to his or her likes and interest – tours, special offers, theatre shows, maps, location-specific guides, restaurants.
What’s more, it’ll take into consideration the time of day and the user’s actual location – pushing to him or her only those notifications that are truly relevant.
It’s a personalised tour guide, a daily planner, a guidebook, a map, a concierge and a booking engine all on one ecosystem joining all the dots of the traveller’s journey seamlessly.
It’s a complete in-destination mobile solution in the palm of your hand, which means that the traveller does not need to download four or five different apps to do this, but it could all exist within one solution, delivered on mobile.
Sound feasible? The truth is that all the tools to make this reality exist today, however not many companies have invested in putting all of these together for the traveller.
Fact or fiction
Not many industries have embraced and adopted the advancement of digitalisation as much as the travel sector – and this is showing no signs of slowing.
According to the World Economic Forum’s paper entitled Digital Transformation Initiative Aviation, Travel and Tourism in collaboration with Accenture, over the next decade (2016 to 2025), digitalisation in the travel industry is expected to create up to $305 billion of value.
It’s no secret that what is truly driving not only innovation but also monetisation and profitability in travel is mobile technology.
According to Criteo, fuelled by smartphone use, close to one-third of online travel bookings worldwide took place on mobile devices in Q2 2016, up from 24% just one year before.
This trend is reiterated by Hotels.com’s travel tracker, which reports that in 2016 42% of people booked a hotel on mobile, rising to 53% for under 30s.
And according to the 2016 Expedia/Egencia Mobile Index, 84% of travellers want to access information from anywhere in the world. Some 60% admit that they would be unwilling to go on holiday without their mobile devise. In fact, 35% claim to use their mobile more on holiday than they would otherwise.
I know there is lots of talk about Millennials and how they are driving mobile adoption. The want-it-now generation makes snap decisions and demands on-spot, personalised information at their fingertips.
I would say that it is not just Millenials. Most of us (I am a Xennial if we have to label), are constantly on our phones, checking email, chatting on Whatsapp, posting on Instagram. It is just a natural progression that we are all moving towards the mobile device, because it lets us save time.
It is herein that lies immense opportunities for companies to engage with their customers by giving them a mobile-driven travel experience.
It’s already happening.
Room to improve
Let’s take hotel apps for example. For the most part, they have been focusing on the booking of the rooms, and perhaps on the check-in features, yet most hotels abandon their guests after the check-in. They don’t invest or know how to engage people on the device they are on most of the day. Where is a traveller to look for advice on what to do? Why are the hotels not the ones providing this, not enabling guests to explore their properties, to know the city or the neighbourhood or even book tours, activities and attractions or reserve a table at a great restaurant?
I am not going to say that no hotels are investing, in fact some are. Take for example Aloft, which recently launched its in-room app that controls the guest’s room using Apple’s Homekit and Siri.
This allows guests to change the temperature, control the lights and television all using voice commands. Siri also acts like a real concierge, answering questions about the local area. Although yet to revolutionise the travel industry, voice-based commands are gaining momentum, especially as natural language processing evolves.
What I see gaining ground is the chatbot, such as that used in Whatsapp and Messenger. Now brands are creating their own bots to automate and speed up the loop around how customers engage with content and ask questions.
Take Holiday Inn as an example, becoming the first major chain in Japan to adopt the latest artificial intelligence chatbot concierge – Bebot.
Bebot offers real-time assistance to guests by answering questions that only hotel staff or locals would know and then goes on to make restaurant or tour bookings.
I know of other great examples of brands who are building bots (I have personally helped one brand with its first bot which is launching soon) to engage their guests while in destination, but the adoption is slow and scarce in the industry.
If you have ever worked on a proper chatbot, you would know that a lot of the time has to be spent on the Chat UI, because you are building for intent, so the results are not known, as if you were building a website or app. If you think about it, for every answer a bot could give you, there are 1000 ways of asking.
Once you have your ChatUI – you have to start getting enough data to make the bot smart – most people think that they can build a bot in a few weeks, and then they call the bot AI powered. Sorry to deflate the hype, but most of those bots have barely any machine learning applied to them. That takes time, training and it’s not just done by the algorithms – companies that get it right have humans annotating and fixing queries.
Of course you can’t do everything on a bot, so as a company you will probably still need to use an app of some sort.
Few companies can afford to rest on their laurels and continue to avoid engaging their customers on mobile. The travel giants are taking note, only in May this year we saw online travel giant TripAdvisor relaunch its native iOS app, making it more streamlined for its 150 million monthly hotel shoppers to search for hotels, book flights, tours and attractions.
However it is not just the OTAs, hotels and airlines that should be engaging customers and investing or building for great mobile travel experiences. Banks and telecoms companies have travelling customers who are loyal and expect to receive these experiences, perhaps even tied to loyalty and rewards programs.
Opportunity in the making
According to the World Economic Forum report, it is predicted that within travel$ 100 billion of value will migrate from traditional players to new competitors.
Companies that have traditionally served a certain sector of the industry – such as airlines – are now crossing boundaries as roles are blurring. While providing flights remains their raison d’etre, airlines know that to build deeper and stronger relationships with their customers they need to provide more.
The opportunity cost of not investing in mobile is that customers will start looking for alternative apps or bots, and the opportunity to gather data, behaviour, drive revenue and engagement will be taken by someone else.
It is not a fad. A mobile solution for your guests if you are a hotel, for a passenger if you are an airline and for a customer if you are a financial institution is not a nice-to-have – it is what you should already be doing.
It’s worth remembering that the in-destination experience is central to any trip. The airline and the hotel are a means to experience a destination.
Companies need to empower their customers – before and after the flight or beyond the hotel room – by giving them the tools not only to inspire but also to turn that inspiration into reality. Joining the dots of the entire travel experience means offering a highly personalized, 360-degree in-destination mobile experience.
Through mobile technology, based heavily on accurate data collection, some of that $305 billion revenue predicted by the WEF could be yours.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve an art gallery to go to.
Other sponsored articles by TheEntertaine.me
Airlines can innovate the stopover experience with mobile (Sept17)
In-destination is worth billions but without mobile, forget it (Aug17)