As flights were canceled in record numbers and borders began to close, the travel industry, among so many others, transformed overnight due to COVID-19. The onset of the pandemic coincided with a continued digital transformation of travel and hospitality — and today, as the industry rebounds, that transformation becomes more critical than ever before.
From the advent of the mobile boarding pass to the rise of the online travel agency (OTA), technology has changed the way consumers plan, pay for and go on trips. Even after a traveler has returned home, technology extends the journey by providing ways to leave reviews, share memories, and start saving and planning for the next trip.
Now, in a time when mobile options are increasingly preferred and consumers look to technology to assist in their daily lives, travel and hospitality brands have the opportunity to distinguish themselves from competitors by adopting the latest advancements in digital transformation.
Travel vs. hospitality customer experience innovation
While technological innovation is affecting both the travel and hospitality sectors, there are several distinctions between the two sides of the industry. Planes, trains and automobiles are often seen as a means to an end, providing just connection between destinations. Meanwhile, hotels and other brands in the hospitality sector may be perceived as providing a fuller experience, as travelers can spend several days or even several weeks at the same property while on business or vacation.
These differences mean that travel and hospitality brands may have slightly different goals for transforming the travel experience for their customers. Where travel brands might focus more on improving booking and check-in experiences, hospitality brands might look for ways to use technology to reduce COVID exposure or use self-service content to assist with customer questions before or during their stay.
A 2020 report from Skift found that 43% of surveyed travel brands said that it was “much more” important for their organization to move ahead with the digital transformation they had started before the pandemic. With travelers returning by the thousands in 2021, digital transformation continues to be a priority in the travel and hospitality industry — perhaps in part because of the many benefits that technology provided during the rapid travel fluctuations and adaptations caused by COVID-19. According to our research, positive consumer perception of innovation in the travel and hospitality industry has decreased since the pandemic — from 14 to 8% — indicating there is still a great deal of progress to be made.
Across both sides of the industry, consumers expect a similar, effortless experience tailored to their traveling needs. They look for efficiency, a safe journey and friendly staff who will guide and assist them along their way. With the latest technologies in place, both travel and hospitality brands can deliver on these goals, improve customer experience outcomes and drive loyalty that will inspire future visits and referrals.
Four of the latest transformational trends in travel
For several years, the mobile experience has dominated travel brands’ approach to digital transformation. The pandemic caused many airlines and other brands to quickly pivot operations to rely more heavily on technology in hopes of decreasing the spread of disease and making journeys easier for both travelers and staff.
On the travel side of the travel and hospitality industry, which includes airlines, trains and rental automobiles, technology has contributed to many advancements that aid in the traveler’s experience. Here, we’ll explore some specific ways that technology has transformed the travel industry.
- Booking and changing reservations
When it comes to booking or changing reservations, mobile apps and sites have completely transformed the modern traveler’s experience. Customers now have control of their reservation in the palm of their hand and can make updates quickly without interacting with a customer service agent. With the aid of artificial intelligence (AI), customers can even engage with chatbots that can answer common questions regarding their travel experience, such as rebooking or adding a stop to an existing reservation.
- Seat selection
Certain airlines use their app technology to allow travelers to choose their seats while booking their plane reservations. Airline apps often also provide a list of stand-by passengers, which travelers can monitor as they wait to board a flight.
- Social media
For passengers who have tight connections between flights or who have missed a flight due to delay, the advent of social media technologies for airlines and other brands can provide a considerable benefit. Social media customer care options allow customers to quickly access help, whether facilitated by AI or an agent, further improving customer experience — and the travel experience as a whole.
- Mobile boarding passes
While mobile boarding passes existed long before the pandemic, their usefulness and innovation were further proven in 2020 and 2021. Mobile boarding passes equipped with QR codes that can be scanned while going through security or boarding a flight reduce the need for customers to engage with an agent at check-in to print their tickets.
Five of the latest transformational trends in hospitality
For hospitality brands, digital transformation has helped to improve guests’ stays at hotel properties, which inspires brand loyalty over time. In addition to aiding in the booking and reservation process and offering options for customer care on social media, technologies have created several other ways to optimize the hospitality experience.
- Check-in and check-out processes
Thanks to digital transformation, the check-in and check-out process no longer needs to occur at a hotel’s front desk. Checking in online streamlines the customer service journey and allows for a more effortless experience.
- Digital keys
Digital keys are another technological advancement that has improved the traveler’s experience. Customers no longer need to dig through luggage to produce a key when returning to their room and can instead simply scan their phone at the door.
- Self-service content
Hotel brands can use self-service content to assist guests with any questions they may have before or during their stay, which both empowers the customer and assists customer service agents if a customer reaches out for additional help.
- Personalizing the travel experience
Speaking of personalization, the customer data and analytics provided by these technologies can help hotel brands better understand their customers’ needs and improve upon their experience in the future. Data points such as customer bookings, ratings given post-stay, or even dining preferences can give brands the insight needed to create a more distinctive and memorable stay for guests, encouraging them to return for their next trip.
Utilizing digital transformation as a competitive advantage
The digital transformation has only accelerated due to the pandemic — and as we enter a new phase of travel and hospitality, the benefits of technological innovation will serve as a competitive advantage for brands making their return to consumers’ lives. The travel experience will depend on technology to propel it forward, as customers will rely on AI and other customer experience technologies to support them in navigating the challenges associated with traveling today.
To learn more about how travel and hospitality brands can adapt and thrive in this new environment, download the Best Practice Guide Delivering Best-in-Class Customer Experience in Travel and Hospitality from Foundever™. Including data from our latest travel consumer research, the guide also features a five-step checklist for customer experience success in travel and hospitality.