As an avid traveler, I have a knack for the curious. Last evening, post work, I had a date with Google planning my next travel when my curiosity engulfed my thoughts. I was sitting at a café comparing flights and hotels for Cuba on my Mac. Fifteen years ago, I would have visited a travel agent, in town and would have been at the mercy of his/her mood. A self-service travel website was unheard of then, and the the physical travel agent desk, thankfully, has become obsolete now. What had led to the shift in how travel is planned and purchased?
Technology happened and so did competition. But even technology was not stagnant. And in order to win, you needed to be different and forward-looking. What started as simply as a website, with a few basic options, has now evolved into an all-encompassing platform where recommendations and options and strife competition make you wonder if there is any more room for change. Everything is just perfect, right? Wrong!The consumer had tasted the blood of innovation and they became hungry for more. At times I wonder if needs lead to the development of new technology or is it the other way around? Or could it be that challenges in the existing systems, call for change? And this is how the hospitality and travel industries too have continued to evolve.
Today everyone is knee deep incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the hospitality business. Yet, consumers of hospitality services do not really realize how the internet recommends deals on a number of different websites based on their browser history, frequent travels, and favorite brands. It is like the invisible hand that intelligently predicts their preferences and adjusts the pieces on the chess board accordingly. How Artificial Intelligence is transforming the hospitality and travel industry is a subject of another blog, but I wanted to introduce it to those who might want to familiarize themselves with the next big thing.
The past is always a window to the future and this is true of the travel and tourism industry as well. If the visionaries of the past had not envisioned a completely virtual hospitality and travel experience, we would still be at the mercy of a few rustic travel agents who cared less to find and compare the best rates for any given flight. Not their fault actually. There is always a limitation to how much data a human can process and analyze. So there arose a need for more filter options to match the customer's needs to the travel service provider.
You are all probably familiar with Microsoft’s Expedia, which was preceded by and EAASY Sabre, both of which was started because travel agents wanted uninterrupted access to airline schedules and fares, and hotel pricing to automate the booking aspect of their service. This could come about only due to a revolutionary idea of centralizing the booking system. With every airline wanting a space on this system, they had to play about with their fare. This worked to the advantage of the passengers. They could not only find what they were looking for but they could do it from their desktops. The trend of a “DIY Traveler” came to being with Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz and Booking.com following suit.
Travelers were enjoying this new wave, yet they were far from being content. They wanted more information about the hotel they were booking through reviews, images, and videos. They also wanted the best deal, so they began shopping across multiple online channels. With the advent of the smartphone, travel companies had to revisit their customers and ask them for feedback. Business travelers definitely appreciated the mobile apps that helped them make and manage bookings from their phone.
The urge for new experiences led to the emergence of businesses that promoted homestays namely Airbnb and Couchsurfing.
The travel landscape had definitely transformed, thanks to the human software developers and visionary marketeers who predicted and painlessly innovated products and services that would be of interest to the masses. The evolution of the travel industry tells the tale of technological transformation.
So one might ask what does the fortune cookie read about the future of the hospitality and tourism sectors? I would say the future is already here- yes, the traveler is the future, and if a hospitality business wants to survive into the future it would have to serve personalized services in a platter to them at the speed of light, well just kidding about the speed, but one cannot disagree that there has never been room for the slow and steady. Customers can be quite unforgiving with their patronage.
If you are in the business of travel, you need to travel with the times too and make the shift to Artificial Intelligence. I am not oblivious to the fact that making a shift from the reigning technology to the newbie in the market is far from perfection. But, there must be a reason that major hospitality and travel brands are joining forces with offshore captures to have them handle their technological advancements. It is the only way forward- to personalize the travel experience- without upsetting your balance sheet and to have you focus on the front end side of things. Partnering with a digital partner also ensures that you are the first to introduce a technology or feature into your travel business.
More on AI and travel technology partnerships in my next blog.