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Technology Hacks: Ensuring a seamless and immersive travel experience

October 30, 2018

Over the years, enterprises in the travel and hospitality industry have emerged as the key adopters of information and communications technology (ICT) solutions. The growing availability of smartphones, ubiquitous internet connectivity and mobile application-based platforms has acted as a catalyst for the rapid digitalisation of the sector. Further, emerging technologies like internet of things (IoT), big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) have enabled the sector to re-engineer its core offerings to deliver personalised services to customers.

 

The industry has also witnessed the emergence of numerous ICT-driven start-ups operating across segments, including online travel planning, travel guide services, food delivery, digital communication platforms and online accommodation booking. These start-ups have helped in the proliferation of ICT-based applications in the travel and hospitality sector, thereby helping in integrating operations, reshaping the marketing function, improving total efficiency, providing tools for market research and partnership building, and enhancing the travel experience of tech-savvy customers.

A look at the key ICT solutions that are playing a vital role in redefining operations of the travel and hospitality industry…

Mobile-based applications

The most significant reform in the travel and hospitality industry has been brought about by mobile-based applications, which have enabled the whole user experience to be available on the go. These include applications allowing generation of mobile tickets/boarding passes, enabling mobile check-ins for hotel rooms and for hailing cabs. Further, metasearch players, hotel chains and airlines have also started betting big on mobile. To this end, several hotel chains and airlines have started focusing on generating direct hotel bookings through their own websites and mobile applications to avoid intermediary commissions and to increase the revenue through ancillary services. Hotels have started utilising applications to provide guests with more control, allowing mobile check-ins, ordering of food and beverages, customisation of the minibar and booking of other services such as airport pick-ups and drops. Moreover, some hotels have started automatically sending electronic key cards on guests’ smartphones, allowing them to checkin without anyone’s assistance. This key-less entry procedure helps hotels in lowering their labour costs while adding to the guests’ satisfaction by saving their time, which is otherwise spent in completing the formalities at the front desk.

IoT

The adoption of IoT has enabled the industry to streamline operations of hotels, airports and travel companies by connecting smart devices, systems and processes; increase operational efficiency and deliver a more personalised experience to customers. To this end, in-room tablets based on IoT can be used to enable guests to personalise their rooms by adjusting room temperature and lighting, scheduling wake-up calls, etc. Further, an IoT platform can, over time, memorise a regular guest’s specific comfort preferences and automatically set up the room for the guest’s next stay by adjusting the temperature, lights, TV channels, etc. IoT can also be used to ensure effective predictive maintenance. For instance, in case of breakdown of an air-conditioning system, the system sends an alert to the hotel staff so that the problem can be fixed while the guest is away from the room.

Meanwhile, IoT can also be used to enhance travellers’ in-flight experience by using sensors embedded in seats inside the aircraft. These sensors can help in measuring the anxiety level, heart rate, body temperature, hydration level, etc. of travellers, allowing the cabin crew to take better care of each passenger. Other hospitality businesses such as restaurants can also implement IoT systems for better inventory management. For instance, sensors installed in restaurants’ kitchens can track the food being prepared in real time, and this can help restaurant owners implement better quality control and meet food safety standards.

Big data analytics

The travel and hospitality industry generates a huge amount of data throughout a traveller’s journey from searching and booking, to travelling, checkingin and checkingout, and arrival at the origin. This data is crucial for hotels, travel management companies, online travel agents (OTAs), airlines and metasearch engines. These players use big data analytics to improve and personalise customer experience; employ dynamic pricing for value maximisation; predict the future demand and prepare for it; optimise operations through better visibility into internal data; and channelise marketing efforts to achieve targeted responses. Further, hotels may use data to explore possible business opportunities. For example, Marriott International utilises data obtained from various internal systems and surveys, third-party research organisations and public sources to make analytics-driven business decisions.

In the past few years, airlines have also started using the data they collect on a regular basis to design targeted marketing campaigns, provide personalised offers, and predict demand to maximise revenues through dynamic pricing. Data collected during flight operations through pilot reports, incident reports, etc. can also be used to improve flight safety.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI in the form of virtual assistants, chatbots and robots is increasingly being employed across the travel and hospitality sector. Chatbots are amongst the most prominent applications of AI in travel. Industry players are either building their own customised chatbots, or using interfaces powered by established messaging applications. For instance, an Indian metasearch engine recently launched an AI-based chatbot, which can answer queries related to travel planning and booking, including what to do in a city. The company also plans to introduce a voice assistant, which would be capable of asking customers their plans and preferences, and making suggestions accordingly.

Further, OTAs are also joining the AI bandwagon. For instance, a major Indian OTA is planning to launch an application-based tool, which would allow customers to perform travel search and booking in their native languages. Of late, hotels have also been working on leveraging AI to improve customer experience. Some early movers in the hotel industry are even going beyond chatbots and virtual assistants, and utilising robots for customer support. For example, Hilton Worldwide has a robot concierge named “Connie”, which can converse and inform guests about a hotel’s features and amenities, local tourist attractions, and dining outlets. Meanwhile, 14 per cent of the airlines globally were using chatbots, as of 2017. This figure is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2020.

Upcoming technologies

Apart from the aforementioned solutions, emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) also have the potential to change the way in which enterprises in the travel and hospitality sector work. Through VR headsets, travellers can virtually experience a place or see other people’s documented journeys. VR also allows people to have 360-degree views of a hotel room or airplane, thereby assisting in better decision-making while planning their travel. To this end, Airbnb is experimenting with VR and working on ways to incorporate it into users’ travel planning experience, wherein they can virtually get inside a house or a city and explore it through 360-degree photos and 3D scans. Similarly, using AR, Airbnb is exploring ways to help travellers navigate through daily challenges and make travel more seamless, in addition to making it more immersive. For example, AR could be used to provide users with instant language translations for queries such as how to operate a hotel room’s air conditioning.

Key concerns

While the adoption of ICT solutions among enterprises in the travel and hospitality industry is on the rise, a few concerns related to the adoption of these solutions still remain unaddressed. One of the key pressing concerns relates to the lack of an integrated digital payment ecosystem between banks, mobile wallets and merchants that facilitates domestic as well as foreign currency payments. Therefore, a seamless and transparent payment ecosystem is crucial for the increased adoption of digital payments. In addition, a large amount of data comprising personal information of travellers, financial transactions and customer behaviour leads to data security and privacy issues. In order to protect this data, enterprises need to take stringent security measures that can prevent cyberthreats including phishing attacks and espionage.

The way forward

Challenges notwithstanding, the travel and hospitality industry seems to be leading the way in terms of ICT adoption. According to a report by KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, online travel bookings in India are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14.8 per cent between 2017 and 2021, from $22.3 billion to $38.7 billion. Further, the industry is expected to witness the adoption of more innovative solutions and services such as AR city tours, smart tourism, robots for security and housekeeping, smart luggage, radio frequency identification, facial recognition technology to open hotel doors, driverless/self-parking cars and air taxis in the near future.

 
 

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