Manoj Sharma, Chief Technology Officer, Cleartrip

In order to enhance user experience, deliver better output and improve business efficiency, enterprises in the travel and hospitality industry are making concerted efforts to leverage technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud. Big data analytics seems to have emerged as the key disruptor in this sector as it helps companies better understand the behaviour and preferences of travellers, and accordingly come up with customised service options. While these technological advancements have provided several benefits, the deployment and management of these ICT solutions is laden with challenges such as heavy capex and opex, maintenance and management of the requisite infrastructure, and the need to stay updated with the rapidly evolving technological space. Industry experts share their views on the evolving ICT needs of the sector and future technology trends…

What role is ICT playing in the travel and hospitality industry?

ICT, particularly in the travel and hospitality industry, is helping us reach out to our customers to provide them with services they desire or information related to those services. We reach out to them through the channel of their choice or at the location of their choice. For instance, customers travelling to a new location, look for information about the place in­cluding activities that can be explored in that particular city as well as their flight status. Basically, customers want to be notified through their desired channel or application such as SMS, email and WhatsApp, rather than checking for service details themselves. There are consu­mers who want to receive notifications over a voice communication.

What are the key ICT solutions deployed by your organisation? How have they improved your business performance and efficiency?

Currently, we use SMS, email, WhatsApp and voice services. SMS and email have been the traditional methods of reaching out to customers. Also, we are now catering to audience who prefer WhatsApp (this is a new growth area for us) to the exis­­ting traditional services. By using these communication channels to proactively reach out to customers, we are able to reduce the manual support required.

“Voice technology will bring in a new set of customers to our platform who are otherwise not very tech savvy. We also need to see the potential of voice in vernacular languages to mature.” Manoj Sharma

How are new-age technologies like AI, cloud, IoT and big data analytics transforming the travel and hospitality industry?

We are already seeing the proliferation of cutting-edge technologies like machine le­ar­ning, AI, cloud, IoT and big data. These help us in understanding our customers better and crafting hyper-personalised services. If a traveller has a specific preference or priority, Cleartrip can help in executing such demands in a meaningful way.

Traditionally, travellers followed a search-book-travel process. With machine learning and AI, we are able to understand customer behaviour over a period of time. This helps in creating unique content and solutions for them.

Technology innovations should be able to save our time while getting things done. A better understanding of consumer preferences will allow us to offer unique services and content. This will be a win-win situation. When customers are happy, they give us a chance to have a deeper engagement with them. It increases their chances of revisiting our platform.

We are already experimenting with a machine learning solution. We are finding ways to determine travellers’ profile, see how committed they are while booking, and if we can offer them a discount or an incentive at the moment so that we can convert the intent into a transaction with us. As of now, this experiment has inc­rea­sed our conversion rate.

IoT helps us in communicating with customers like telling the customer that the luggage is now available at the conveyor belt. We are also present over some of the voice platforms today. Voice technology will bring in a new set of customers to our platform who are otherwise not very tech savvy. We need to see the potential of voice in vernacular languages to mature.

What are the challenges faced by your organisation in managing the existing IT and telecom infrastructure, and deploying new technologies?

There is not any major challenge as such. It is the usual support needed to back the existing technologies. We have a strong and experienced team to maintain and up­grade these technologies. Most of the solutions are deployed on the cloud. This means that upgradation and maintenance are done automatically without much in­terference from a specific person.

Going forward, what are the key technology trends that will shape the future of the travel and hospitality industry?

We will see investments in AI-driven solutions, and machine learning is a subset of that. Voice-based solutions will em­er­ge as the most promising ones. The introduction of a variety of payment solutions will also be an exciting trend that will shape the fu­ture of the travel and hospitality industry.