Do you remember the days when you used to have to call a travel agent to make travel accommodations for you? There was no digital interface, no travel package option on your smartphone, no live chat to answer questions. Today, we have access to technology that has made booking travel an almost entirely self-service experience. This has created an ecosystem of tech solutions for those in the travel space to provide efficient and productive service to their clients and a plethora of options for travelers.
Now, with so many websites, apps and other technology solutions in the travel space, the game is on to provide the best digital travel experience to customers. Travel agencies today are looking to streamline every facet of the travel experience. That’s everything from customer acquisition and retention to premier customer service at an economic price.
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So how can travel agencies use tech to set themselves apart in a saturated market? And how can you apply these lessons from the travel industry in your own crowded digital marketplace? I spoke with Daniel Nelson, executive chairman of Travel Pass Group, which books 10,000 room nights per day and has surpassed $2 billion in gross hotel booking revenue across its travel-related websites. Nelson credits this rapid growth in large part to the tech TravelPass uses. Here’s his advice to set yourself ahead of your competition.
1. Focus on milliseconds.
Most of the challenges faced by travel agencies today concern making information accessible. Every day, they work with a rushed customer base that demands results in milliseconds. “Speed wins! Plain and simple,” says Nelson. “Our goal is to deliver an experience at the speed of thought. That’s how we define a win.” (It is Amazon-like, where the customer never has to wait but is given the desired options and experiences.)
Key to remember is that technology does not replace human interaction — it enhances it. As Zach Smith, cofounder of Anywhere, states, technology equips teams to “focus on empathetic communication and solutions… to create an authentic, human travel experience. The value is the difference between interacting with robots versus human intelligence.” When you can give your client an immediate search result and enhance the communication experience, you’ve got a recipe for success.
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2. Shoulder the tech burden for your clients.
In the travel industry, hotels and suppliers often have slower legacy systems that cannot perform with the speed that consumers have come to expect. In addition, they are unable to make that digital transformation in-house to sync properly with state-of-the-art travel sites. So Nelson’s team enhances the systems. “We’ve developed capability in taking inferior technologies, putting them into our platform and large data sets and allowing them to maximize traffic and exposure to the right types of customers. It’s a harmonious win/win relationship.” In order to get the product to market, suppliers need to leverage the speed, performance, tech and reach of a distribution partner. No matter the industry, enhancing the tech of a partner (for free) will be a welcome opportunity.
3. Pay attention to the dynamic aspects of your customer personas.
Buyer personas are critical to understanding demand, and the science of personas is at the heart of creating successful customer experiences. “Savvy marketers recognize that one size does not fit all,” says Nelson. “Personas are fluid measurements of what a customer is thinking and doing as they try to solve a unique problem using your product. We attempt to time and stage every step of interaction — from inform and discover to shop and compare to buy and book. An individual customer may behave very differently when searching for business or leisure travel or several other reasons for travel. Good marketers understand this and create experiences accordingly.”
By paying attention to your target audience’s shifts and trends, you can better adapt your technology and marketing plan to turn a searcher into a customer.
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4. Embrace machine learning.
Machine learning has accelerated the speed of knowledge and market penetration. “The machine learning aspect has only made us smarter and faster in deciding where to place our bets and how to make best decisions with limited resources to make high-gains capital. It allows us to provide an efficient, targeted customer experience online or over the phone,” Nelson says. AI is here to stay, and it can help you make smart decisions when it comes to whether to invest in a technology.
The travel industry is far from being down and out, but it is a poster child for early tech adoption. It is a trillion-dollar, global marketplace defined by agility, productivity and technology. Whatever your industry, your business can profit from the same methods to stay relevant, busy and ahead of your competition.