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Customised Offerings: Enterprises focus on making services more experiential than functional

December 02, 2017

Customised Offerings: Enterprises focus ...

Enterprises in the travel and hospitality space have been actively adopting information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to generate internal efficiencies and deliver a better customer experience. Further, these enterprises have also been scaling up investments in advanced technologies such as cloud, big data analytics and internet of things (IoT) to meet consumer demands more effectively and stay competitive in the market. Travel and hospitality industry experts discuss the key ICT tools and trends in  the industry and the plans going forward…(From left to right- Sharat Dhall, Chief Operating Officer (B2C), Yatra.com; Nilesh Patel, Director of IT, AccorHotels India and South Asia)


How have the technology needs of the travel and hospitality industry changed over time? What role is ICT playing in the industry?

Sharat Dhall

Technology has completely changed the travel landscape over the past decade, both for travellers and for companies. Online travel agents like Yatra have empowered travellers by giving them a wide variety of travel choices with complete transparency in pricing, all at the click of a button. IT and telecom can play a pivotal role in the progress of the travel industry.

One of the most powerful competitive tools now accessible to companies is business intelligence software powered by big data analytics to help them personalise their offerings as per customer preferences. It also enables companies to map the customer journey and automate processes to reduce manual intervention, thereby empowering businesses to streamline operations and maximise efficiency.

With the increasing penetration of smartphones, customers are becoming increasingly more aware and tech-savvy. Voice search is rapidly becoming a popular trend among travellers. To keep pace with this and simplify the overall user experience, Yatra has introduced voice search on its mobile app.

Nilesh Patel

Two decades ago, travellers wanting to book a hotel room had to call the hotel directly or write to it requesting a booking. Today, the internet and the mobile have completely disrupted the travel sector. Travellers can access various platforms to obtain the most dynamic pricing amongst the best offers available. They can also raise queries, state their concerns and specifications, and make complaints.

With as many as 65 per cent of travel searches being made through mobile devices and almost 42 per cent of travellers around the world planning or booking a trip using their mobile phones, smartphones have emerged as the preferred device for finding, preparing and organising a trip.

IT and telecom solutions are playing a major role industry-wide in ensuring satisfaction for leisure and business travellers, and in bringing in high returns on investment (RoIs) for investors. Many new technologies are being adopted in the hospitality sector, including IoT, virtual reality and big data.

What is your organisation’s IT and telecom blueprint? What are some of the enterprise solutions/applications that the organisation is using? How have these helped in enhancing business performance and efficiency?

Sharat Dhall

Yatra is focused on rapid technological innovations and advancements. To ease the booking process, we have launched multiple features like Facebook chatbot to facilitate search of flight tickets, a self-serve platform to address customer queries, and a marketplace chat platform to enable travellers to chat in real time with sellers. We have also integrated with Truecaller for an easy on-boarding and verification process. Yatra was also the first online travel portal to introduce unified payment interface as an alternative payment option on its website.

We, moreover, have an automated inbound query handling system where all incoming calls are automatically answered and routed to the appropriate agent. As a result, their operational efficiency has improved sharply. We also have dashboards, which keep track of calls received during out-of-office hours so that they can be followed up on the next day.

Nilesh Patel

Our ability to constantly integrate new technologies and improve the way we serve our guests and hotels is at the heart of our digital strategy. AccorHotels deploys digital technology to service its guests at every stage of their hotel experience – before, during and after their stay – adapting its hotel services to the new modes of consumption, which are more mobile and connected. Some of the recent technology-led innovations that we have rolled out are:

• One app: AccorHotels has launched a new version of its mobile application, under which various brand applications are now united and which features all of the group’s hotels. The app aims to offer an enriched experience at every stage of the customer’s journey, from pre-stay (storage of information like flights, train tickets, e-check-in/fast check-out, and a recap of current bookings), to stay (access to the digital press, city guides and other services that will be gradually introduced, notably taxi booking and room service ordering), and post-stay (loyalty programme management). The app will be updated every three weeks. Further, with more and more customers using platforms like mobile wallets and online payment gateways, which they often access through their mobile devices, we have recently introduced the AccorHotels personal wallet feature on the app.

• Welcome project: The project enables virtual check-ins/reservations, thereby ensuring that guest welcomes are less devoted to administrative formalities.

• VOG platform: AccorHotels partnered with Trust You (a global leader in online reputation management) last year to create the voice-of-the-guest (VOG) platform. It leverages technology to provide the group’s hotels a snapshot of their reputation on both online sources and internal guest feedback surveys. Currently, more than 3,000 of our properties manage their online reputation and guest feedback through this tool in order to improve their daily operations.

• My web valet app: This is an in-hotel digital solution that provides guests with faster and easier access to hotel services and facilities at every touch point. Not only does this platform provide access to essential services and hotel teams such as housekeeping, in-room dining and real-time view of due bills, it also helps guests discover their surroundings, get insights on local attractions and access other key information.  The app is currently being rolled out at select properties around the world, including Pullman New Delhi Aerocity in India.

What is the current level of adoption of technologies such as the cloud, IoT and big data analytics among Indian travel and hospitality enterprises? Is your company using or planning to deploy these?

Sharat Dhall

In the past, customers were not internet-savvy and hence booked the majority of their travel offline. Their preferences were quite standard as travel was more functional than experiential. Now, with increasing smartphone penetration, affordable data plans and improving internet connectivity, the online travel space has grown manyfold and customers have become more informed and open to frequent travelling. They seek unique and different travel experiences, making personalisation a key aspect of big data.

We at Yatra, too, personalise our offerings as per customer preferences. Based on buying patterns, we push relevant offers to our target segment, recommend their stay, etc. Our new brand positioning as “India ka travel planner” is based on the very fact of being able to offer different kinds of travel experiences to different kinds of travellers. Thus, personalisation is an important part of our services. A personalised experience saves customers the effort of searching for the appropriate travel packages and reduces their dissatisfaction levels.

Nilesh Patel

Cloud technology is being widely adopted in the hospitality sector. The platform gives us cutting-edge technology solutions with the ease of deploying any software and maintaining it. At AccorHotels, we have already started deploying our own in-house property management system and front office light system, which is on the cloud.

Fuelled by the breakneck pace of innovation, the latest must-have technologies would be on IoT. Although it would take some time to adopt and deploy these, a few hotels already have virtual voice assistants in guest rooms. Our guest technology innovation team is researching on this.

Our big data plan includes 360 degree data management to expand our excellence in hospitality, and create a unique digital platform for analytics, data discovery and reporting for efficient monitoring of all Accor activities.

What are the challenges faced while managing the existing IT and telecom infrastructure, and deploying new technologies?

Sharat Dhall

Technology advances rapidly and needs to be continuously aligned with changing organisational priorities and goals. The adoption of latest technologies like the cloud, IoT and big data analytics requires an experienced manager who can analyse and evaluate the value each technology has to offer to the business. Using big data analytics also has its own set of challenges. While there is an abundance of data, there are limited data points that are available in a structured format. Hence, data mining is very important. Unstructured data when mined properly can reveal critical insights and help businesses strategise better.

Nilesh Patel

Technology is very dynamic and becomes obsolete within a short time span. Also, the cost of changing of technology is high and everything is compared with RoI. IT budget decisions are frequently taken by owners rather than operators or managers, and technology is viewed as a cost rather than an investment.  As guests are unaware of the level of tech spending, the investments in furniture and fittings could often take priority, until the guest IT services fail.

Going forward, what are the key technology trends that are likely to be witnessed by the travel and hospitality industry?

Sharat Dhall

Big data and personalisation have had a major positive impact on the travel industry as they offer customer insights that were hitherto not available. With this new information, businesses are in a better position to provide customised services, enhance customer satisfaction, increase operational efficiency and, at the same time, help companies gain a competitive advantage. Thus, big data is a game changer for both businesses and travellers, and promises enormous progress. It also creates exciting opportunities for travel agencies as it enables them to offer customised solutions and achieve a marked improvement in the user experience.

 
 

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