By Arthur Chapin
Simply keeping up with the digital expectations of today’s tech-savvy consumer is no longer an option. Exceeding those expectations is a travel industry imperative and an opportunity for hotels to focus on the only thing that truly matters to consumers: the end-to-end guest experience. One reason for the growing consumer adoption of new technologies is their growing digital impatience and expectation for instant responses, answers and solutions to their queries and purchasing requests. Underscoring this is the growing adoption of digital assistants. Today, 62 percent of consumers are comfortable with an AI application responding to their query, which provides fast and efficient results.
AI and Machine Learning: Chatbots Become Ubiquitous 2018 will be a year where AI, in the form of machine learning where computers learn without being explicitly programmed, becomes not just a futuristic technology, but an integrated and valuable everyday tool. Chatbots are already enabling deeper and easier traveler communication – and they are expanding daily to different mediums: chat, social channels, voice assistants and more. And new tools and technologies in this space will allow hoteliers to connect with consumers in deeper and more meaningful ways, and with increased personalization. By better knowing each customer and intuitively providing them with the information they want, we’re freeing up time, and starting off their travel experience right with frictionless discovery, search and booking processes.
Raising Our Voice: Alexa and Google Go Mainstream We have been hearing it for years. Voice-enabled digital assistants are poised to not just change the travel industry, but nearly every industry we touch in our lives. By 2021, there will be 7.5 billion digital assistants in the world. Digital assistants today are giving us weather and traffic information, and entertainment content – but they are also enabling us to search hotels, check the status of flights, and more. As an industry, we need to be at the forefront of testing voice skills, and aligning with the growing traveler adoption of this technology, to ensure we’re equipped and at full performance when it becomes ubiquitous.
- Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and others have already sold more than 20 million devices (a number expected to double in less than a year) (CIRP)
- In 2017, 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month. That’s a jump of more than 128 percent over last year. (eMarketer)
- By 2020, 30 percent of web searches will be done without a screen (Gartner)
- 84 percent of users love that their digital assistants are available all the time (Accenture)
- 39 percent of global voice smartphone users are excited by a future where digital assistants anticipate their needs and take action (Speakeasy)
Seeking Experiences Seventy-two percent of consumers today seek experiences over things. Coined as the “experience economy,” this desire for collecting memories versus items continues to grow across all generations. For hoteliers, this presents a great opportunity to target consumers who in addition to traveling to new locations, are attending events – concerts, sports and shows.
Since 1987, the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to total U.S. consumer spending increased 70 percent. In 2018, consumers will not just book a hotel room, they will book the experience that happens during their time in the market – from dinner reservations, to tours and activities to entertainment. Given their position in the purchase funnel, hotels have the unique opportunity to make a guest’s stay – not just on property, but also off property – differentiated and memorable. Providing the guest with an insider’s guide to your city/location, along with top attractions and off-the-beaten-path suggestions, will build true loyalty and engagement, and help deliver on the experiences that today’s consumer craves.
Packing Power Marketplaces rule the world. Just look at Amazon, the one-stop shop now for nearly any consumer desire – practical or otherwise. Consumers expect a seamless, one-stop experience in nearly every area of their lives. A recent multi-generational study by Brand Expedia shows that 80 percent of travelers find it useful to book all their trip components together, and for Gen Z, that jumps to a massive 87 percent. Convenience is king. The upside for hotels is that offering rooms in “package bookings”, alongside flights and cars, typically means higher ADR, longer booking windows and fewer cancellations. Plus, consumers can streamline their research and booking into one seamless purchase. Packages really are a win-win.
Weathering the Storms From travel alerts to duty of care, helping leisure and business travelers prepare for and weather disasters before, during and after a storm is a meaningful and valued service. If there was anything the travel industry observed broadly in 2017, it was the impact weather and natural disasters, as well as changes to national visa and travel policies, can have on travel – and the importance of traveler safety, communication and satisfaction during these travel disruptions.
During an executive roundtable at the 2017 Phocuswright Conference, industry leaders discussed the importance of having a contingency plan in place before a crisis happens. Being prepared helps the travel industry – and our valued customers – bounce back more quickly after a period of disruption. Making the rebooking process easy and efficient, as well as supporting those travelers stranded in a time of crisis, is just one way we as an industry can help alleviate concerns. Aiding in real time, whether by helping rebook trips or diverting travelers to non-impacted markets, is not only time-saving, but can also be life-saving as well. For the business travelers, providing duty of care information – alerting HR departments and managers as to which company representatives are in the impacted region, where they are and plans to assure their safe stay and return, is also critical to riding out the storm together.