In the past few months, we’ve been looking at digital transformation trends in different industries like healthcare, retail, finance, and media and entertainment. Today, we look at an industry that’s been completely turned on its head in recent years, due to extreme digital transformation: tourism and hospitality.
It used to be that we’d visit a brick-and-mortar travel agent every time we needed to plan a family vacation or work trip. (Granted, some of you may not remember that.) But today, thanks to mobility, travelers are playing a much larger role in the experience. They want to find a hotel that matches their style—on their terms—the very moment they need it. And thanks to players like AirBnB, which set the stage for a completely new era of travel, they can. Indeed, when it comes to the hospitality business, digital transformation is a mix of greater customer demands—and the technology that can help meet them. Let’s take a look at the top trends impacting the hospitality and tourism industry.
The digital transformation is a dream come true for introverts who like to travel. With mobile-first and mobile-only brands continuing to grow, customers can do practically anything on their phone, from checking in—to ordering room service—to unlocking the room door itself. In fact, one can plan an entire trip—from booking to bedtime and home again—without ever talking to a live human.
AI and Chatbots
Remember when all hotels used to have clunky welcome binders on the desks, outlining where to eat, what to see, and what to do in the area—everything you needed to know? Today, hotels can provide all that information—and more—via AI-powered apps and technology. Guests can access the information at any time they need, right from their phones in the form of an e-concierge. They can even access voice-activated chat bots to open the curtains, set the alarm, or order breakfast, without ever talking to a human being. At the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, you can even text a robot named Rose at any time, 24/7, and she’ll find a way to fill your request, fast. Meanwhile, Marriott has been using AI-powered chat bots at nearly 5,000 hotels to do things like make reservation changes, and check on account balances or redemption vouchers.
Integration of the IoT
As more and more devices get connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), it makes sense that the tourism and hospitality industry would begin to harness that data to improve the customer experience. After all, the more they know about their guests, the better they can please them. If the IoT data tells them the customer has visited their resort every year for the last three years, it can automatically send a message proactively asking the guest if they’d like to make another booking this year. You just saved your customer a step—and guaranteed a booked room—without ever lifting a finger. The same could be said by harnessing information about food selection, excursions, and in-room amenities. The opportunities for up-sells and better CX are endless.
Focus on Data
As noted above, data is going to play a huge part in the new era of hospitality and tourism. In the case of AirBnB, they were able to use customer data to determine that guests who chose not to book were doing so because they were discouraged by hosts who failed to respond to their inquiries. (I’ve been there—it’s annoying.) By offering instant booking feature to guarantee their reservation, they helped alleviate many of the customers’ concerns and helped automate what had previously been an incredibly arduous part of their business model. Data didn’t just improve CX. It improves the bottom line, as well.
The fact that guests can book instantly also means they can share their opinions instantly via Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other travel review websites. That’s why technology has pushed hotels and restaurants to focus even more on providing quality customer service. Yes, there are outliers. I’ve experienced them myself. But there is no doubt the trend is toward better service for guests—not just a better return for operators.
Whether it’s a hotel property, museum, or a tourist destination, guests can take a look without even leaving their living room via virtual reality. The goal is either to offer a preview of what guests will experience—or offer the next-best-thing to visiting at all. (For instance, would you rather pay $4,000 to visit Paris in real life, or $200 to take the same trip in a virtual world?) This isn’t being done on a widespread scale yet, but some major operators are offering guests the chance to experience at least a snippet of their travel experience—offering greater piece of mind especially to those planning a visit to a faraway destination. Others destinations, like the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA) are already offering VR installations as part of their exhibits.
The travel and tourism business is a $1.2 trillion industry. Clearly, there is incentive to invest to grow it even more. Whether the IoT is improving the accuracy of flight schedules, or the lure o f VR is convincing someone to take their first overseas trip, there is truly no end to the value tech can add to travel. They just need to be careful it doesn’t become so good that guests prefer the tech over the real thing.
This article was first published on Forbes.