By Alan E. Young
Steve Balmer, ex-Microsoft CEO once said, “The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential”. In the travel industry, technology is moving rapidly and affecting both the supply and demand side with solutions that enhance operational efficiencies and help companies drive top line revenues.
Alternative Lodging Connectivity and Distribution
Airbnb and HomeAway are everywhere. They are extremely innovative in their business approach. However, they have been less than innovative regarding their technological approach. This appears to be changing hastily. During the infancy of online travel, OTA’s had to contend with an unsophisticated technology environment. As such, they received online bookings via email and sent out confirmations via fax. Expedia and others realized that this was unsustainable and started connecting with everyone via API’s. This sped up the process, and ultimately they were able to drive more revenues and deliver a better guest experience. Airbnb and HomeAway have figured this out very quickly. Expect to see a broadening of their distribution strategy in 2016. This is how they will be able to not only offer alternative lodging to their growing fan base but also start to include more “stable inventory” such as rooms from Boutique Hotels and Extended Stay properties.
Sales Force Automation in Travel
Every medium to large company has implemented some means of sales force automation (SFA) tool. Salesforce is probably the most widely adopted and they company reports that 90% of the world’s data was created in just the last 12 months. It is now time for travel departments and SFA solutions to work seamlessly with each other to optimize the travel spend for corporations. The possibilities are endless. In most cases, sales tend to develop trips based upon prospects that are deemed as “low hanging fruit”. As such, their travel is not well planned, monitored or optimized. Imagine if there was integration between the trip/travel system and the SFA system? Now, when planning a trip to NY to visit a new prospect, the connection between travel platform and SFA tool would suggest that the sales person visits with two clients in Philadelphia and one more in Washington that are up for renewal or ready to purchase. The cost reduction in this scenario to the company would be enormous, reducing opportunity costs and most likely increasing revenues.
True Traveler Engagement
We hear a great deal these days about traveler engagement. How do agencies and OTA’s communicate with the traveler after the booking has been completed to maintain a level of conversation continuity and ultimately a sense of loyalty? During the recent Skift event in NY, the term “authentic engagement” was all the rage.
True traveler engagement hinges on a few things. Yes, being authentic is important but it is also incredibly important to be relevant. When communicating with a traveler, whether it is to improve their trip or experience, the underlying technology needs to deliver content that truly enhances the overall trip at every touch point. If it is an offer, is the offer relevant to my trip and specific to me, the traveler? It is incredibly important to deliver the right content for the right person at the right time and the right place. If it is more experiential, can I include my friends and family to ensure that I get the most out of my journey using recommendations from those I trust? All of these areas of engagement need refinement and developing the technology to deliver it is well underway.
The business travel world needs considerable help. How many times has a business trip been disrupted by delays and or cancelations? In fact, 28% of all flights in the US last year were delayed. Technologies that notify business travelers of disruptive travel environments will come to the forefront in 2016. Programs that factor in weather, air traffic, global events as well as things that even the traveler or travel agent could not foresee will be available at the fingertips of the business traveler via their mobile device. Ultimately being able to react and even anticipate disruptions will enable operational and travel efficiencies within the corporate travel world.
The Year Ahead
The changes of the past 20 years will seem mild compared with those of the next five. In 2016, businesses will have nowhere to hide from the disrupting yet invigorating effects of technology change. Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Those organizations with flexible processes, structures and culture will be able to respond quickly and will find technology-led changes loaded with opportunity. You can use this ever-changing environment to redefine your company, improve operations, create new revenue streams, and drive higher profits than ever before.