At the turn of this century, planning a holiday might have entailed a visit to the local travel agent. For the more adventurous traveler armed with a well-thumbed guidebook, relying on trusted word-of-mouth recommendations to set their travel agenda. Today, thanks to breakthroughs in technology and high-speed internet, travelers can book their own flight and hotels online, choose to stay in a stranger’s house, and rather than entering that unfamiliar restaurant with trepidation, search online reviews on their mobile
While the travel and hospitality industries are about one-on-one guest services, there are now more self-service options. From check-ins to concierge and housekeeping requests, hotel chains like Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, and IHG are building apps that essentially let you stay at a hotel without having to interact with staff. The same goes for airlines and airports, where you can even now tag your own luggage in addition to doing almost everything on your phone, including re-booking a missed connection, as we can see on a United flight.
Marriott has their own app, where guests are able to request toiletries and towels directly from a phone, as well as checking out. Some hotel properties even let you use your phone to open doors and control the television.
“Digital technology has changed the way we connect with guests, creating a 24/7 relationship in and out of stay,” says Stephan Croix, vice-president of marketing at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, owner of hotel chains W Hotels and Aloft.
“It is also transforming every phase of hospitality – from finding a hotel, to checking in, to unlocking your door and personalizing your stay. As travel is inherently mobile, travelers expect to use their mobile devices to enrich their travel experiences,” Croix says. As a result, Starwood has adapted and invested in mobile, leading to overall mobile gross bookings rising more than 50% in 2015 compared with the year before.
“As part of the omnichannel strategy, Thomas Cook has seen the need to make sure our customers can be served in a seamless way through whatever channel they wish – online through mobile, tablet, desktop or offline in a store or over the phone,” says its group head of digital operations, Graham Cook. The company has stepped up its digital innovation of late, even introducing virtual reality experiences across select stores.
So how is technology shaping the future of travel? The next few years will see travelers requiring an increasingly personalized service, with companies able to suggest them customized products on the basis of their profiles and past behavior. With many travelers already seeking a more customized and “local” experience, truly personalized trips are already beginning to take off.by