PhocusWire has four core areas of focus: Startups, Distribution, Technology and Online.
In this analysis for the PhocusWire Forecast 2018, we focus on technology and a number of the important elements that are likely to shape how travel brands are approaching their digital strategies.
The problem with technology as a term in the travel industry is that it’s now so ubiquitous that it becomes difficult to single out what developments are the most important for 2018.
Consider the advances in mainframe and cloud technology (the heartbeat behind how the industry’s product is distribution and stored), or the introduction of virtual/augmented/mixed reality platforms to enhance how customers search and experience a trip – these are just two examples, with vastly different strategies.
Travel Innovation and Technology Trends 2017: Game Changers
But, for different reasons, they are not going to set the world alight over the course of the next 12 months.
Instead, we’ll most likely see far more fundamental shifts in the landscape as suppliers, intermediaries and tech vendors use technology to ride the way of changes affecting society and ecommerce.
Some might argue it has taken years to come to fruition, but it appears that travel brands have finally woken up to idea that the “experience” is what really matters to travelers – not least because price differentiation is often now so narrow.
The experience encompasses everything from customer service (mostly people-driven... for now) to the tech-led initiatives that are being pushed by cruise lines (payment devices), hotels (robots) and airports (way-finding) as reasons for why customers should use them.
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Such services are intertwined with wider programs to simply keep customers contented, using a combination of Internet of Things-type connections and super-fast action on protocols.
These areas are almost certain to start becoming the new “normal” in 2018, with technology being adopted to handle automatic rebooking for air passengers who are delayed, or organising issues around security, ground transportation pick-ups and luggage tracking.
Connected to customer experience but at a far broader level is the adoption of technology to help steer vast areas of how a brand operates, both behind the scenes and customer-facing.
These include a wide range of systems, such as retailing to present products that are right for a particular consumer during a search and booking processes, or the automation of previously manual functions within a business.
Throw in the (over-used, as a phrase) concept of artificial intelligence and areas such as speech recognition, marketing, product management, hotel and airport operations come into play as well.
Travel assistance is perhaps the main area where most of the AI-led technology will be deployed over the next 12 months, in services such as fare forecasting or disruption management, as well as loyalty schemes and customer support.
Interestingly, consumer adoption of another new technology is likely to force travel brands to overhaul some long-term processes and thinking around consumer engagement.
"Travel assistance" is perhaps the main area where most of the AI-led technology will be deployed, in services such as fare forecasting or disruption management, as well as loyalty schemes and customer support.
Voice search might be in its relative infancy, with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home and Apple’s Siri still seen by many as playthings rather than useful everyday items.
Yet this area of consumer engagement is changing rapidly, as brands start developing apps and services that have voice interaction at their heart.
Central to this shift will be how good the technology is to handle complex travel queries and provide relevant and useful results.
The point here is that this is not something that could happen but is guaranteed to happen.
Voice search – unlike VR or AR hardware - is becoming a genuine trend in both ecommerce and how consumers want to get information, and then act on it.
It is unlikely that 2018 will be the year that consumers, armed with their new devices, suddenly demand such voice-led services from their favourite travel brands.
But it will be the year that travel brands need to really think through how they are going to prepare for the wave when it finally comes.