AI is already transforming industries, including travel and tourism. Thanks to rapid technology advancements, AI’s role in shaping how travelers find, choose and book travel will not only become more embedded into the customer experience journey, it will play a bigger role as time goes on. AI will continue to make a massive impact on the travel and tourism market, and this article from Qubit takes a look at how AI is influencing the travel journey in particular.
Travelers are definitely taking advantage of the internet revolution to create dream vacations and a lifetime of memories. However, even with the maturation of the internet, customers are still using booking engines that may be functional and efficient at best, but are greatly lacking in inspiration and don’t really help travelers who are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available to them.
However, travel retailing is an incredibly complex sector and firms are faced with the challenge of matching an almost infinite combination of products to tens of thousands of individual consumers in almost real time. Only machines capable of continuous learning can possibly compute the huge amounts of data that this requires –AI teams with operators to makes sense of those insights and determines how best to serve the traveler.
While the use of predictive analytics can increase the relevancy of the search results delivered to consumers, travel firms are blending the use of analytics with a human touch. At this stage in the journey customers are in shopping mode. They want to research the market, to compare, and to be offered range and choice. But customers also want help, by being guided to the right option for them and will place their trust in those brands that are adept at gauging what they want.
During this browsing phase, machines play a critical role in assessing customer intent to achieve the pinnacle of digital marketing -- true one-to-one personalization. Digital personalization can reduce customer acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent (McKinsey, November 2016) and the rise of programmatic marketing means machines are now being deployed to help scale this, making split-second decisions about what to offer to whom and when.
Machines perform a valued service during this pre-booking phase by more quickly matching customers with the perfect choice while simplifying a lengthy, inefficient and sometimes frustrating process. As previously mentioned, re-acquiring customers time and again is costly, but more importantly losing customers is a clear sign of a less than stellar experience.
Booking the perfect vacation
During this more functional phase of the traveler’s journey, mobile doesn’t tend to be the booking channel of choice. However, as more people adopt sophisticated devices, and user-friendly and secure payment gateways mature, this will likely to persuade more customers to book on mobile devices. The “Uberization” of travel will also see more firms encouraging customers to upload their payment details and log in to transact on mobile web or app.
According to eMarketer research (June 2017), by 2021 desktop and mobile travel booking volume will be neck-and-neck, with mobile booking volume increasing to approximately $108.75 billion. Given this trend towards fast and hassle-free online access to researching and booking travel, it makes sense that many travel companies are utilizing self-service tools and automated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to provide simple answers to customer questions, while helping them to focus their resources on more complex and valuable tasks. This personal portal then acts as a direct communication channel with the brand, and when machines don’t have the answer travel firms can provide the human touch and provide the answers that customers seek.
As the countdown to the departure nears, travel brands are automating contextual messages via email, text or in-app push messaging. The hope is that the customer will use the brand they have transacted with as their personal travel concierge throughout the duration of the trip. The challenge is to be able to integrate multiple data sources and then drill down to the precise information most useful to the customer at the time.
Prior to the internet age, travel was all about the packages the tour operator created cookie cutter style. Today, the consumer is more savvy and demands travel-packages that are customized for them.
But what about the many regions of the world, such as Europe, where the pre-packaged holiday market remains resilient and may even be enjoying a comeback? This provides its own special set of challenges. It requires travel companies and tour operators to embrace new technologies and ditch legacy systems which are unable to handle live dynamic pricing and flexible durations. And, operators and hoteliers are increasingly listening to their customers as they develop product and offering services more in-line with demand.
This generational and behavioral shift is something hotel brands are paying close attention to and responding to across the board. Brands such as hub by Premier Inn and Carlson Rezidor group’s Radisson Red have emerged specifically to target tech-savvy millennials. Mandarin Oriental is using machines to improve operational delivery, not to replace humans but to enhance what they can do.
Once the customer returns home, the real work begins as attention turns to loyalty and retention. The vital ingredient for travel companies is continued engagement, but how do they achieve that?
Feedback is left by 70 percent of Airbnb guests, while the industry average for hotels is just 10 percent. Airbnb has obviously mastered the ability to obtain customer reviews. The goal of every travel company is to provide an experience that’s so good that customers become advocates and start to refer the brand to friends and family, creating long-term loyalty in the process. Achieve this and the job of capturing the customer again at the inspiration and research phase becomes that much easier.
Once the customer has returned from their trip it’s all about whether the relationship with the brand, built during the previous four phases, will continue so that the next time they enter the research and inspiration phase they are treated as VIPs. Customer retention and loyalty comes down to the experience your brand provides whether it’s delivered by a machine or a person, or both. What really matters is whether the customer’s vacation met or exceeded all expectations.
The global travel industry is going through a massive paradigm shift. Not just because of technological advancements but due to the fact that technologies will actually be capable of thinking for themselves. AI-powered machine learning will work as a team with operators, who will look to machines for their recommendations on the optimal outcome for a given set of circumstances.
It can’t be said enough that the battle to hook the customer has never been more competitive. Travel firms that are adopting AI-powered machine learning are more likely to be successful at acquiring new customers, decreasing customer churn and win at increasing the number of travelers returning to book vacation after vacation.