Travelers have fast become sophisticated users of digital technology, including smartphones, tablets, wearables and beacons. While the entire travel and hospitality industry has responded by investing in these technologies, online travel intermediaries have so far been most effective at capturing the interest of tech-savvy travelers, with their splashy websites and speedy electronic connections.
However, another industry player — travel suppliers — have a natural advantage for appealing to digital consumers: They own the inventory. Their ownership of assets, such as guest rooms, amenities and excursions, means they can also control the end-to-end travel experience.
Our latest research reveals that by engaging consumers with digital capabilities that bridge physical and virtual experiences, travel and hospitality companies can maximize their digital strategies — and thrive.
Identify — and Target — Early Adopters
Travelers who are the earliest adopters of technology can help travel companies create those enduring connections. In our study, this group of travelers embraces emerging technology and services across the travel lifecycle, from browsing and booking, to shopping and traveling. Roughly 25% own wearables, and 21% have booked a ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft. The numbers spike higher for millennials, with nearly three-quarters (72%) owning wearable devices, and 61% using ride-share services.
Of special interest to travel and hospitality companies are smartphone bookers. Approximately 36% of respondents use smartphones to make travel and lodging reservations. The same group also enthusiastically straps on smart-watches and participates in the sharing economy.
While travel companies view smartphone booking as a revenue channel, these early adopters can also serve as a pilot group for new products and services. (For a deeper dive, see our infographic, “Why Early Adopters Matter.”)
As travel companies find their digital footing and, perhaps more important, monetize the sharing economy, mobile bookers are their newest allies. Industry stalwarts such as Enterprise and Hertz are already altering their models to put the sharing economy to work.
Yet early adopters also invite digital disruption. How can travel companies stave off disintermediation? The best weapon is a digital strategy that focuses on customers: understanding the customer journey, and then engaging with customers more consistently and creating the easy planning and booking experiences they crave. Building core capabilities is essential to maximizing digital strategies.
Four Questions to Sharpen Your Digital Strategy
Here are four questions that can help your organization determine its digital strategy readiness.
Have you accurately assessed your current state?
Understanding how customers perceive your organization is the first step in building a digital strategy that delivers on your business objectives. An outside-in view is a core capability. Today’s organizations need to think, act and “be” digital at scale to serve customers in the ways they expect.
Customers increasingly demand rewarding, convenient and rich online experiences that go beyond merely booking an airline ticket or hotel room, such as delivering personalized digital assistance for every aspect of their trip.
What’s your target state vision?
Identify and define a clear target state and create a vision of the future. For example, the race is on among hotels to develop smartphone-based check-in and room keys. Hilton and Starwood have already done this. It’s a primary example of connecting the physical and digital worlds.
Consider what your organization wants to be, relative to what customers expect. What does your brand stand for? Where is your opportunity for competitive differentiation? What innovations can you bring to market?
The following steps can help shape a vision that can serve as your target state and roadmap:
Develop a questionnaire to capture the voice of the customer — and make it meaningful. An outside-in perspective is crucial. Too many companies conduct surveys that are rudimentary and hedge on the tough questions.
Capitalize on industry trends and research to stay ahead of the competition. The rapid growth of new technology creates more opportunities for businesses to grow and gain control over their market.
Evaluate digital core capabilities. Digital is more than technology. It means putting a customer, device, organization or business process at the center of real change in how businesses do things and how customers experience them.
Etihad Airways is renowned for delivering a world-class experience in the air. Realizing that customer experience starts long before passengers arrive at the airport and continues after they land, the United Arab Emirates flag carrier has partnered with Cognizant Digital Works to envision future customer experience possibilities.
Do you have the development capabilities to keep customers engaged?
Customers want a stream of innovation and continuous improvement. Is your organization able to support the rapid release cycle required?
Does your organization have the people with the right skills to develop new capabilities?
Is technology in place to support the new capabilities?
Do you have well-defined processes that adapt to the changing landscape?
Is your organization prepared to respond to the changes?
Do you have the right partnerships in place to deliver new capabilities?
Is your organization ready to embrace solutions that enable its digital presence?
As travel and hospitality companies modernize, they need to readily support application programming interfaces (APIs), Web services and industry standards that enable their digital assets to resonate with customers and prospects. It’s not enough for hotel websites to offer an e-mail form for communicating with concierge services. Today’s travelers want to extensively interact with brands before using them.
As travel companies launch new initiatives, they must consider how each can be leveraged to fulfill their digital strategy. For example, if you’re investing in new room keys, are they enabled with near field communication (NFC)? If you’re remodeling your airport terminal or adding shopping outlets to your casino resort, should you install beacons?
To begin sharpening your digital strategy, here are some steps to consider.
Conduct a health check. Assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop detailed recommendations.
Examine whether your digital strategy is conducive for early adopters. The challenge is to create more enduring connections with technology-obsessed customers — or risk greater disintermediation and disruption.
Understand the customer journey. Does your organization understand the pain points of managed business travelers and frequent travelers? Explore better ways to use mobile devices to communicate more effectively with travelers and improve the customer experience.
For our views on what early adopters can teach travel providers about digital services, read the first part of this series.
For more insight, read the full report Identifying Early Adopters for Emerging Digital Travel Service, or visit the Travel and Hospitality portion of Cognizant’s website.