Technology has continually revolutionised how people search, book and experience travel, from providing travel agents with tools which allowed real-time bookings in the 1960s and 1970s through to the digital boom of the 2000s. Review sites such as Holidaycheck and TripAdvisor replaced printed guidebooks as the go-to-place for neutral advice. Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and travel providers created their own extensive websites to sell packages and individual travel components directly to consumers, altering people’s experience – and expectations – of travel in the 21st century.

Technology in travel

In 2016, The Guardian highlighted how technology could help personalisation in the travel industry: according to a Euromonitor International representative they spoke with, “The next few years will see travellers requiring an increasingly personalised service, with companies able to suggest…customised products on the basis of their profiles and past behaviour.” The following year, The Telegraph reported that technology investment should be a “no-brainer” – yet today, many travel companies are lagging behind other sectors in their technological capabilities to serve their customers. But in the last five years, technology has been much more closely aligned with success in other fields of online retail. Travel buying online experiences often appear to have stalled on the runway. Fashion, groceries and home entertainment companies have flown ahead, launching intuitive and personalised experiences for their online customers.

Why travel should be – and is – different

The challenges of providing an online experience for travel customers are different to other sectors. Travel is often an emotional purchase – even for business travellers. The sounds, smells, expectations and feelings travel stirs are unparalleled in other industries. And, of course, so is the level of money spent in just one purchase. Biting into a bar of Belgian chocolate from an online chocolatier or unwrapping a new handbag from a leading fashion brand may give shoppers a moment of joy, but travel combines the senses to create lasting memories, evoked long after the trip itself has ended. And this will be even more prominent over the coming years as people look to personally recover, reconnect and regain strength following the pandemic. Because of its ‘big ticket’ nature, travel bookers usually undergo long decision processes – from researching and planning, through to comparing prices and products, before finally booking. The average travel customer has traditionally visited around 40 websites during their planning and booking process, so how can online travel providers offer a superior user experience which captivates your user and secures the booker?

The impact of Covid-19 on travel booking trends

In recent years, consumers have flocked to online travel booking – both using online travel agencies and travel providers digital offerings for DIY packaging. The Covid-19 pandemic is tipped to temporarily reverse that trend, with ABTA predicting people are 20% more likely to use a travel professional over the coming year due to security and trust concerns. Whilst the pandemic may have slowed the online travel growth, digital continues to permeate other areas of shopping. One survey found 42% of people shopped online for groceries in 2020, up from 22% in 2018, whilst another reinforced the non-surprising findings that people were shopping more online because of the pandemic (30% more in Germany; 46% more in UK; 52% more in the USA). As people continue to build their trust in the process of booking (and paying) online, when borders reopen and trust in travel returns, we can safely anticipate that online travel bookings will return with new fortitude. Add to this the pent-up demand and we can almost expect a gold-rush mood.

Learning lessons from other sectors

The reasons people shop or book travel online vary: some seek the convenience of having everything at their fingertips, others find digital easier to compare prices and products between competitors. But even more so than other sectors, online travel bookers crave the personal touch: 86% consider or value personalised offers (ICEF Monitor) and companies offering personalised web visits see an average of 19% uplift in sales (Monetate). But with its varied individual user data and highly complex products, travel providers often find it impossible to benefit from generic personalisation technology solutions, such as collaborative filtering like that used on streaming-TV or for Amazon recommendations.

Next steps for travel

Travel needs to learn from sectors which have invested in personalization and up the stakes to drive forward precision marketing strategies – highly targeted to very specific consumer characteristics. Clothing brands creatively position add-ons through recommendations, pairing accessories with a dress in your basket, or a new top to match the jeans you’re browsing. By pairing relevant suggestions to a holiday item, you can build the value of the customer’s potential order. What would it take for travel to restore its reputation as a leading player in the technological landscape? Instead of having to manually filter search results, AI exists which can pick up on user-generated direct and indirect signals in real-time. This lets travel companies pre-empt and work in conjunction with the users online behaviour, ensuring relevant and timely messages are signposted to your users.

Why use travel-specific technology

The concept of precision retailing may seem daunting, but by employing sector-specific technology, it’s a breeze. At bd4travel, we understand the nuances of selling travel and our products reflect this, using your data to shape a unique understanding of each of your customers, letting you communicate with them efficiently and effectively. Find out more about our products, designed exclusively for the travel industry.

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