This is a viewpoint by James Brooks, account director, CenturyLink EMEA.
The travel industry, like many others, is in the middle of a digital revolution. The disruption caused by the dawn of the internet, the rise of budget airlines, and the launch of online price comparison sites mean that businesses in the sector today are virtually unrecognisable from those of two decades ago.
What’s more, the customer has changed too. Millennials buy and consume products and services in completely different ways to previous generations. Disruptive businesses such as Uber and Airbnb have transformed consumer expectations and while baby boomers would never dream of making a purchase as significant as an all-inclusive family holiday or a long haul flight via their smartphone, its second nature to Millennials.
While newer brands are already putting digital innovation at the forefront of their business, some of the older, more established travel companies are appointing senior staff such as chief digital officers to focus purely on the digital transformation of their business.
Take a legacy airline’s central reservation system for example. As a primary means of knowing the price of products and of taking bookings, should it go wrong or degrade it could result in airlines being unable to take bookings or – worse – in planes being unable to fly.
A new airline brand, starting tomorrow, could, however, purchase a SaaS solution off the shelf and put the majority of its processes in the cloud, increasing reliability and efficiency, while minimising costs.
With so many exciting and sophisticated solutions already on the market, and with more becoming available as technology continues to evolve, travel businesses need to consider how they can use this technology to help them thrive and meet the needs of their customers now and in the future.
It’s imperative that travel companies do not rush into technology investments. Take the latest hype surrounding virtual reality headsets. If companies were to blindly spend large amounts on such technology and their infrastructure was unable to support it, they could run the risk of slowing their customers’ path to purchase and potentially have a negative effect on sales.
With such a vast range of options available to them, many travel and tourism businesses find it difficult to choose the technology that most aligns with their strategy.
A successful digital transformation requires a business to question its objectives from the transformation before stepping back to work out how to meet them. Deciding what technology can be used to achieve these objectives then follows. Before adopting any technology, businesses should consider whether it’s going to improve a customer’s experience, and what specific benefits the customer is likely to enjoy as a result of its implementation.
Implementing disparate solutions before asking such questions could result in costly mistakes. But it is also possible to err on the side of caution – a lack of innovation and failure to stay ahead of the competition can prove catastrophic.
The challenge, therefore, is to match the pace of innovation with the technology trends and services that are identified as a long-term need. Employing a ‘best execution venue’ for applications and workloads can allow organisations to make the right decisions as to the best technology (for example SaaS versus IaaS or all-in public cloud versus a hybrid approach).
Enhancing the customer experience
Rather than being a gimmick, or a ‘nice to have’, the ultimate purpose of any technology should be to enhance the experience of existing and potential customers.
Achieving a consistent high-quality user experience across all devices and platforms can be a challenge. It’s important that they provide the same response time across every platform, ensuring that internal systems are able to react quickly to requests to avoid booking systems showing or even re-selling inventory that had actually been sold just half a second before.
With the right technology in place, it’s possible to react to the increased demands of their customers at speeds never previously possible. This will enable businesses to provide them with what they want, when they want it, via the channel they choose.
With travel businesses seeing an increasing amount of traffic from a wider range of devices, customer-facing applications need to be built for a multi-platform environment.
And thought must also be given to the network that supports these applications. After all, with the volume of data continuing to increase exponentially, these networks have to be agile and scalable.
Walk before you run
We’re in the middle of a digital revolution in which consumer demands and purchase habits have changed irrevocably. In order to remain competitive, travel brands must invest smartly in new technology so they can digitally transform their business in order to keep up with these changes, now and in the future. It’s important, however, that digital transformation investments are made after considering how they’ll meet the business’s goals, rather than rushing in and purchasing the latest technology just because it’s what everyone else is doing.
Technology is evolving fast, and businesses need to keep up, but they must walk before they can run.
Related reading from tnooz:
Getting the measure of digital transformation (Jun17)
A deep dive into digital transformation and innovation (May17)
What can a hotel guy tell a room full of airline people about transformation? (Oct15)