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Technology is driving “tidal wave of change” for booming travel industry

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The combination of strong economies around the world and rapid developments in technology are causing significant, fundamental changes in the business of travel.

That was one of the key messages from speakers last week at Travelport Live in Las Vegas to an audience of agents and suppliers.

According to Jeffrey Rosenweig, director of the global perspectives program at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, “Travel expands faster than economies when economies grow, and the economy around the world is growing.”

“And in very populous Asian markets the economy is booming. This is going to transform the entire world of travel.”

India has the fastest-growing economy – at a rate of more than 7% per year – and Rosenweig predicts it will have the world’s biggest population in seven years, surpassing China. Indonesia and Vietnam will also gain prominence in travel.

As economic confidence spurs more people to travel, advancements in technology – most notably the ubiquity of mobile devices – are changing the ways brands and travelers interact.

“We’re witnessing the beginnings of a tidal wave of change. The pace is accelerating, and that acceleration is driving more and more pressure and more and more disruption,” says Fergal Kelly, Travelport’s chief commercial officer.

At the core of this change is travelers’ growing desire – and demand – for personalized experiences at every step of their journey.

“In the past … it really was all about making the sale and packing people off,” Kelly says.

“But increasingly, what people expect from their travel brands is a more joined-up view. This expectation is here now today and understanding that and what your response to that is an important part of your competitive mix going forward.”

Mobile

Noting how mobile has changed every type of communication – from television to books to music – Travelport’s senior vice president and managing director for hospitality and digital, Niklas Andréen, says it is also changing the way people plan and experience travel, moving every process to a more real-time, as-needed basis.

“Where before people used to research travel before you went on a leisure or business trip – where is my hotel, how do I get to my meeting – we do a minimal amount of work before we leave now,” Kelly says.

“What mobile gives us as intermediaries in the channel is the ability to interact with our travelers not just when they choose to interact with us but when we want to interact with them.”

Mobile has equipped consumers to be always on, always connected, and they expect their brands and services to be accessible on demand as well.

By using data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning in conjunction with mobile, brands can better meet travelers’ needs and ultimately build trust and loyalty.

“When I started in travel 12 or 13 years ago, people used to talk about the stages of the travel life cycle. It was a very linear thought process,” Kelly says.

“What people need to be thinking about now is increasingly inspiration is something that can happen at multiple points in the journey. Think about how persistent mobile is … there are hundreds of points in that process where you have the opportunity to inspire, to advise, to personalize. These are no longer discreet phases. … These are persistent themes you need to think about.”

Andréen shared examples of how hotel brands are using mobile solutions to improve the guest experience, with everything from digital room keys to much more personalized interactions for guests willing to share data.

“It might mean that it has gone and checked what is the temperature set to in my home, what is my playlist at home, so when I walk into my hotel room it has my favorite playlist on Spotify, and it has the temperature set to 74 if that’s what I want to have,” Andréen says.

“Or it has picked up the information from your mobile about your meeting schedule so you have the business names on the TV, it has set the alarm clock. … This is where the hotels are working to make that in-room experience seamlessly tied to your mobile device based on the fact they will know you before you arrive.”

* This reporter’s attendance at the event was supported by Travelport.

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