Powering up the Future of Travel with Technology
By Anshul Gupta, Accenture Travel & Hospitality Industry Lead at Advanced Technology Centers in India
One thing is clear—business as usual will not enable travel companies to prosper in the future and cater to new consumer expectations post-pandemic. The world is changing, and so must business practices. Let’s explore how travel industry leaders can empower their companies and employees with the latest technologies for a better traveler and employee experience.
How have travelers’ and employees’ expectations changed since the pandemic hit?
There is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior, preferences and values. Let’s look at the impact from a leisure travel perspective: As consumers interacted with other industries during the pandemic, the way they shop, how they engage with brands, etc. has changed. Understanding this is crucial so that travel brands can meet new standards and rebuild traveler confidence.
More than ever, technology is now intertwined in our daily lives—and there are examples everywhere:
- Mobile-first shopping
- Instant food ordering via mobile apps
- New payment interfaces
- Intelligent home technology
- Self-monitoring fitness devices
- Remote healthcare options
- Online meetings & engagement
- Virtual reality tourism
The pandemic has truly resulted in a fundamental shift in our behavior and the way we rely on technology. That’s also true for the corporate travel sector, where we see more emphasis on the following aspects.
- The health and safety of employees is top of mind for corporate travel decision-makers. In order to rebuild confidence in the sector, multiple organizations have prioritized health passports that provide a one-stop-shop view on customers’ health status.
- While COVID-19 has accelerated digitization, technology has truly come to the fore in revolutionizing customer experience. At the same time, travelers are in control and they decide who to share their data with.
- Corporates are setting their own sustainability targets. Sustainable travel options help corporates achieve their own sustainability goals and live up to the values that are in demand from the conscious travelers of today. This leads to a new form of loyalty in the making—one that’s driven by sustainability.
What changes are happening in the workplace?
Workforce dynamics have changed. From job losses at the beginning of the pandemic to workforce shortage and The Great Resignation now, the industry has seen new values, changing ways of working, and expectations around flexible work conditions.
As companies match increasing demand, the “war for talent” remains a pressing issue. The key is to design an attractive place to work, which is characterized by flexible working principles, and embeds the latest technology.
Companies today are augmenting their workforce in four key areas through the latest technologies to make the workplace more efficient and engaged.
- Chatbots for the entire booking cycle
- Facial recognition and biometrics for a contactless, seamless travel experience
- Computer vision and AI for crowd control, safety, and throughput enhancement
- Automating redundant processes across the travel value chain through robotics and robotic process automation (RPA). Think about way-finding robots and security robots at airports, server robots at hotels, baggage handling, and in-house processes through RPA.
How can travel companies keep up with the experiences created by other industries?
The time to restructure and rebuild is now. The industry has undergone a tectonic shift, and companies need to capitalize on new opportunities as they rebuild.
The top-of-mind names in other industries from an experience standpoint can be Amazon, Uber, or Netflix and the list goes on.
Travel CXOs understand the need for services that elevate the travel experience in an operating model that drives flexible cost structures and greater automation—just in the right areas. This is key to recovering the bottom line at the very least and improving revenues through newer incremental streams.
This requires a mindset shift, rather than just following the way things have always been done, companies should favor a move towards a culture of experimentation. A good example is an airport that has been recognized as best-in-class for a couple of years—and continues to invest in digital, AI, and analytics to enhance the passenger experience. This could include the launch of their virtual assistant that focuses on the flight schedule, alerts, and recommendations.
How close is travel to being ready for the future?
Our research in 2021 revealed that travel CXOs were less bullish about the ability of future systems to blur the boundaries of their ecosystems—that includes systems of its own, partners, providers, and customers. Meanwhile, other industries have three times more appetite to dedicate portions of their budget to innovation.
Workforce readiness remains an area of concern, as travel companies significantly lag behind other industries such as automotive and retail in dedicating the workforce to innovation-related functions.
Another important aspect is cloud readiness. Only 30 percent of travel companies today are implementing cloud at scale. In reality, strategy and scale are not always the same thing. Hotel and airline senior executives expect two-thirds of the business workloads to be in the cloud in the next five years. This is based on our 2022 study with 300 airline and hotel industry senior executives across functions.
What are the cloud scalers doing differently? What makes them more successful?
The cloud scalers say success starts with a solid foundation for change and making the best use of technology.
- Think about the role of IT: The CIO should do more than overseeing technology. With a seat at the table, the CIO can drive future growth.
- Think about new ways of working: Consider how your current systems are working—or not working. Imagine skilled employees who support highly configurable and adaptable systems.
- Think success beyond the change: Travel companies can develop a transformation plan that mitigates data security and privacy challenges.
What does the future of travel look like?
The future of travel would be seamless, personalized, and hyper-connected through a hidden ecosystem across travel providers.
This ecosystem could extend to:
- Banks that provide flexible payment modes
- Car-rental companies that vary rates basis your past adventures
- Retailers that sell their catalogs in-flight with destination-delivery
- OTT providers auto-adjusting in-room entertainment channels with your loyalty tier and viewership
- Insurers that provide hassle-free trip cover based on your itinerary and beyond
This kind of extended experience can also help reinvigorate business travel in a hybrid setting.
There is so much hidden value to be uncovered every step of the way which comes with many opportunities to strengthen the relationship travel companies have with their customers.
The future of travel is not so distant. It is a future that’s significantly more efficient, intelligent, and frankly more enjoyable for the travelers and all the stakeholders involved. And this ecosystem is only possible by embracing digital technologies like AI, cloud, distributed ledger, and edge computing.