TUI looks to digital to close gaps in the holiday journeyNews / Distribution | TechnologyBy Linda Fox | March 12, 2015Share This article was originally published on Going from traditional tour operator, with a distribution network of stores, to a digital business was never going to be easy for the likes of TUI, Thomas Cook and others.And yet, with varying degrees of success, they are making progress through concept stores to marry online and offline, mobile applications and the use of newer technologies.About 40% of TUI's mainstream holidays were booked online the company announced in its recent first quarter results and says Mittu Sridhara, TUI Group chief technology officer, online sales totalled Euro 5.5 billion last year.But, the annual holiday purchase remains for most a big financial outlay, an emotional one and a once a year kind of thing.So, how do you maintain a conversation with someone who is potentially only interested in your wares once a year? And, consider also that typical lead times are between four-and-a-half and six months.Sridhara says mobile provides one solution by enabling the company interact with customers in a different way. He also points out that although customers might have booked a holiday, they also have another two/three travel ideas in mind and that plans are often formulated when discussing other people's trips.Some of the work being carried out is about connecting customers with people in destinations to help them find out about the holiday they have booked or may book.Other projects are around content and "digitising and mobile enabling the business" so that holidays are brought to life in a more meaningful way what a brochure or website present.Sridhara says it's about making information that is unique to TUI - could be images, video etc - available to its customers.One concept, it has been playing with, is the idea of a holiday journal which enables customers to put together a log of their trips combining the best of their own images and clips and potentially some of the tour operators.TUI is also considering how to make video a greater part of the holiday buying experience by integrating customer footage across stores, its mobile apps and website.As part of this process, the operator wants to help its customers produce good clips by providing them with guidelines around optimal length and relevant content.Sridhara says streaming technology has made it much easier to make good use of video but the goal is to make it appealing as well as easy for the customer to share the content.Other ongoing experiments are also about bringing holidays to life at the purchase stage including a virtual reality area at the company's Bluewater store with 360 degree imagery, as well as, gamification-type concepts where skiers can pit their performance against others via heads-up display unitsFinally, there are plans to extend a trial in Germany with Oculus Rift to provide a 3D tours of a TUI cruise ship to the entire fleet.As these trials bubble along, it's worth remembering there are also strategic initiatives underway, including a customer relationship platform to help TUI join the dots. More on this has been promised in May.In the meantime, Sridhara says: "Because we are in the entire holiday journey there are unique opportunities to take what we have and amplify it. The physical world and digital world we live in is becoming more interactive. "Today we have passengers who arrive at the airport, we check you in, we own the airline, we can also check you in to the hotel and start to add convenience like we have never done before."Share this quote Going forward the company is also looking at wristbands for travellers in resort to use for payment as well as to keep track of the kids.Sridhara says this is just the start of what's to come in terms of wearables, increased convenience and how travel companies learn more about and interact with their travellers in the future.Related reading:https://www.tnooz.com/article/Thomas-Cook-dynamic-packaging-ancillaries-CRM/https://www.tnooz.com/article/thomas-cook-tests-virtual-reality-holidays-high-street/NB: Mobile travel image via Shutterstock.