Gone are those days when a visit to a brick-and-mortar travel agent was mandatory every time one needed to plan a family vacation. Fast forward to now, in the era of digital transformation and next-gen mobility, travelers today, are playing a much larger role in building their holiday experiences.
Technology has revolutionized the way we travel, and with an exclusive focus on customer experience today, it is only set to get better in the following years. Let us look at a typical customer journey through their travel itinerary from holiday planning to its completion.
Customers majorly approach online travel agencies (OTAs) over the internet to get access to a plethora of travel and stay options to their vacation destination. They choose a destination by browsing through travel websites and blogs such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, or even Quora to name a few.
After finalizing a destination, the customer books tickets by either checking the airfares on the same website or similar websites to get the best-priced deal. Next, it is time to finalize a hotel for their stay. Travel websites such as Trivago help customers get the best deal on hotels from popular booking sites- Booking.com, Hotels.com, and more.
From here, the actual vacation planning starts – finalizing sightseeing and outing options. Many of the travel websites today also help customers build their itinerary based on their travel schedule, holiday tastes (leisure, staycation, adventure, etc.), including local highlights. Some of the start-ups are thriving on such a business idea; one of them is MUV Travel.
Today’s digital-savvy travelers hop in between devices to plan and execute various stages of their holiday. They demand a seamless and intuitive experience over multiple platforms such as mobile applications, mobile browsers, and desktops. It is, thus, important to ensure that their key touchpoints such as airports, flights, and hotels are tech-enabled to help build a personalized experience for the traveler. For that, the hotel industry is going through a digital transformation.
On the travel date, the customer would opt for a cab ride either from Uber or Lyft to the airport. While on the cab ride, they can check the status of your flight on the booking website/app or the airline’s website/app. Just in case the customer forgets to check in before leaving for the airport, they may check in through the airline carrier’s web portal on the go. Else they can go over to one of the airline’s kiosks to get bags tagged or pay to add on charges for excess baggage weight and print the boarding pass.
Let us go through the in-airport journey of this customer from the carrier kiosk to boarding. The customer moves to the counter to place bags on the carousel line once the IDs are all checked. With the boarding gate number on the boarding pass, the customer walks to the TSA checkpoint or may opt for a TSA Precheck Clear membership that allows them to beat the queue with a quicker screening. After repacking all bags and accessories, they proceed towards the boarding gate and may sieve through the gate concessions over an app or a display kiosk or a brochure from the information desk. Most airports today have free WiFi service, and the customer may opt to watch that one episode of their favorite series on Netflix over the open internet. Once the customer boards the flight, some of the airlines, too, extend complimentary in-flight WiFi subscription service. When the flight is about to land, the airlines update the bag collection belt number in advance to ensure travelers do not face trouble locating their baggage. Sometimes, customers may also receive SMS alerts from their chosen hotel for a complimentary airport pick-up some minutes before their landing. Else, after landing, they can also opt for Uber/Lyft from the airport with designated WiFi points to avoid dead zones in the parking lots.
When the customer reaches the hotel after a long tiring journey, they contact the hotel reception to check in to their room. Some hotels provide a self-check-in kiosk where the customer enters their booking ID & the last name to collect the room keys. Some tech-forward hotels have also adopted a mobile-equipped keyless entry system for an expedited check-in experience. It also helps bring down the check-in queues at the hotel reception and hence increases operational efficiency. Keyless entry and application systems interact with cloud-based hotel management software. This helps streamline the guest journey, including preferred room selection, automated and quick check-in/out, room upgrades, and payments.
As the customer moves towards their room, they might experience an automatic connection to the hotel WiFi without entering any credentials. The seamless registration and onboarding over the hotel WiFi are possible as both the hotspots (on the airport and at the hotel) may be from the same provider, Hotspot2.0 enabled. Customers demand carrier-class WiFi networks from hoteliers today. This demand for frictionless WiFi creates an opportunity for hotels to use the WiFi service to build brand loyalty.
According to a report by Hospitality Tech, it is estimated that 80% of guests won’t return to a hotel that delivers a lousy technology experience. Thus, it becomes essential that hotel provides seamless WiFi onboarding to their customers. In addition, many WiFi onboarding solutions provide WiFi analytics and proximity marketing opportunities to help hotels upsell and cross-sell their services.
The intelligence gathered after running analytics on data obtained from a WiFi Access Point can be visualized over an interactive dashboard to analyze multiple KPIs across a hotel chain’s properties. It helps get insights into the hotel’s guests and uncover customers’ behavioral patterns to better engage and interact with them over the WiFi captive portal. The intelligence gathered by WiFi analytics tools can also help strategize new WiFi Marketing campaigns, offer incentives to guests, and create loyalty programs for tech-forward hoteliers. Loyalty programs in hotel chains facilitate repeat customers because of the personalization and differentiated customer experience they offer to the guests. Today, many hotels have beacons and occupancy sensors (IoT) installed inside their rooms. They help hotels push restaurant menu notifications to guests’ smartphones at optimal times. If the guest is a repeat customer, then based on actionable insights, the notifications may include personalized suggestions based on past orders.
Since hotels are very quickly adopting technology, guests may find an Alexa right beside the room door to greet the customer and provide room services. A basic voice recognition system in the room can control the lighting, curtains, or AC temperature. Voice searches are a growing trend and can help play a significant role in customer experience as customers can use them to gain various kinds of information. Many hotels today have beacons and occupancy sensors installed inside their rooms. They help hotels push restaurant menu notifications to guests’ smartphones at optimal times. If the guest is a repeat customer, then based on actionable insights provided by WiFi analytics, the notifications may include personalized suggestions based on past orders.
A chatbot or a virtual assistant in a messaging app can help answer frequently asked questions. It can help suggest useful information like nearby places to visit, services that guests can avail of, basic troubleshooting info in the room, etc. Chatbots help reduce the queries addressed to manned desks. Furthermore, AI/ML algorithms can help recognize patterns from large heaps of databases which can be used to make predictive analyses.
The retail industry has already hopped on to the AR wagon. It is already using virtual try-on and smart mirrors to provide a personalized user experience to its retail customers. In the hospitality industry, VR and AR can provide virtual tours of tourist spots, famous landmarks, and restaurants. This can help customers expedite their decision on whether they wish to visit a particular place. VR can also be used for pure entertainment and in-house gaming.
Although AR, VR, Chatbots, and virtual assistants are applications of AI/ML, this section will talk about other ways we can leverage AI in hospitality. As online reviews have become a major driving factor for customers to choose a hotel, AI/ML technology can help businesses leverage them. Online reviews can be easily scraped by monitoring the social sites the customers like to visit and can be used to understand customer pain points. These data points can help hotels perform sentiment analysis, thus improving their services in the future.
AI can also help in sustainability. For example, predictive models can be used to predict water and energy consumption. This can be mapped against the data of various other competition hotels and thus can help in reducing wastage and increasing revenue.
How about reading through this entire guest journey again and now focusing on just the multiple digital touchpoints. While the following list is not exhaustive, here are some of the digital aspects in the journey:
The diagram below depicts how technology has transformed the travel and hospitality industry so rapidly.
According to a recent survey by Google Travel study, 74% of travelers plan their trips on the internet, while only 13% still use travel agencies to prepare them. Taking these statistics into consideration, it is inevitable that the experience over these digital channels is indispensable to ensuring the highest level of customer experience. A traveler’s holiday experiences begin the minute they decide to explore a destination and hook onto a travel planning website for research to the time they land at their destination–and this involves multiple digital channels and platforms.