Here’s What Separates Travel and Hospitality Leaders from Laggards

A keen focus on the customer experience will pay off.

by Julie Hoffmann

posted on 09-12-2019

How can travel and hospitality brands cut through the clutter of unlimited and seemingly just-the-same options? Companies need to focus on customer experience, starting from the initial online search to booking, and all the way through to the travel experience itself. Even a simple lag in delivering in-app content or a pricing issue could be the difference between a lifelong loyalist and a one-off prospect.

However, refocusing your organization around customer experience is no easy feat, which is likely the reason why Forrester found that just 25% of travel and hospitality brands consider themselves experience businesses.

The key to success for travel companies in today’s crowded market: make customer experience the focus of everything they do while creating a company culture anchored in loyalty and mutual value. Ultimately, building the business around amazing customer experiences is what separates travel and hospitality leaders from laggards. Here are four ways to do this:

1. Connect the customer journey

One way for travel brands to provide a more connected customer journey is to link the crossover of mobile and desktop experiences. Look at the Gen Z cohort, and it’s plain to see there is an immediate need to connect data across devices. In this up-and-coming generation of travelers, 52% of pre-trip planning activities are executed on a mobile device while the remaining 48% of activities happen on a desktop.

Here’s a hypothetical example: Perhaps a consumer in line at the grocery store has taken a moment to search for a particular airline destination on a mobile device. This brief moment, which we at Adobe call a “snackable” moment, is a short period of time in which a person is in between activities and their focus is on exploration and discovery. Later that evening, this person may continue the search on his or her laptop.

Today’s customer-centric businesses use data and identity resolution to recognize that a visitor later that evening is the same person from the earlier mobile interaction, and then they can — in real time — tailor the travel-buying experience to pick up where the consumer left off. For example, areas of the site where selections were previously made on mobile — like the flight destinations and dates of travel — pre-populate on desktop. It may seem simple, but it can make all the difference for the customer. This seamless, cross-channel consistency is one of the hardest areas to master, and one of the top challenges we see travel brands face globally.

The idea of a connected experience also extends to the flow from digital experiences to physical interactions. For example, some companies in the travel space have moved to integrations with their call center. They use the data from customer phone calls and incorporate AI to understand specific customer behaviors, interests, and affinities.

For example, a customer on a call with a representative may reveal that they prefer an aisle seat when flying. This information is then passed upstream and downstream across digital channels to better personalize the experience on a one-to-one basis (in this case, offering customers deals on aisle seats specifically).

Anomalies across calls can also be used to identify gaps in digital experiences or areas where travel brands can leverage insights to uplevel service. For example, AI could sense that a travel customer is frustrated on a call with a representative and try to mend the frustration later on with email discounts.

With advanced data and analytics, companies can both understand what is currently happening in call centers and generate actionable insights into what actions customers will take next. According to a recent McKinsey study, companies that are applying these advanced analytics have boosted the conversion rate on service-to-sales calls by nearly 50%, while reporting higher levels of customer satisfaction.

The customer journey is also moving beyond traditional channels —- web, mobile web, and app — to digital screens, signage, and other touchpoints. Today’s travelers expect that the insights the companies learn about them will guide their future interactions with them. And, of course, tighter integrations for traditional processes like hotel room access is being switched to mobile key systems via an app, making physical room access simple and efficient.

2. Match loyalty to lifestyle

Loyalty programs are a staple of the travel and hospitality industry. You want to entice potential customers to use your service and reward them for coming back — but we’re finding more and more that millennials and Gen Z don’t appreciate the traditional version of loyalty programs. ****

The perception among these younger generations is that traditional loyalty programs make you wait an excessively long time before you can benefit from your loyalty. Younger generations are looking for incentives and services that are more integrated with their lifestyle — and that gives them an opportunity to create positive social impact along the way.

Take luggage, for example. What if you could offer a total trip baggage concierge, ensuring that guests’ bags moved seamlessly from one destination to another with no effort on their part?

Or maybe you eliminate the need for heavy-duty packing altogether by offering a wardrobe-lending program? Instead of packing a bulky winter coat, customers would instead rent a high-quality coat at their destination to use during the trip. The wardrobe-lending idea also has a social impact, since reducing the luggage weight on planes would mean they use less fuel and emissions.

If you can reduce sources of friction in the overall travel experience, younger consumers are willing to pay the price. Forty six percent are looking for services that help them to book, manage, and plan their trip, and 55% are looking for a budgeting tool to open up options and considerations on the best time to travel. Your next big idea could be the difference in helping these young travelers see your services rise to the top of the pack.

3. Use AI to personalize at scale

There’s no doubt that personalization is the key to standing out in a competitive space, but it’s effective only in the right context. Now is the time for travel brands to apply artificial intelligence (AI) for active differentiation.

The most notable travel businesses are activating a variety of the latest tech capabilities. They have mastered their use of data — collecting it, analyzing it, and leveraging it to create personalized experiences at scale.

One example is the move toward placing AI-powered voice assistants into hotel rooms worldwide. Guests staying in properties owned by Edwardian Hotels can already meet their own virtual concierge, “Edward,” upon arrival. Additionally, Amazon recently launched hospitality-specific assistant technology aimed at enabling hotels to revolutionize the guest experience by retaining and applying guest preferences and information to future stays.

For travel and hospitality specifically, mobility and geolocation are more central to personalization than in any other industry, and contextual cues are critical as customers discover, plan, book, enjoy, and share throughout the journey.

Forty-six percent of Gen Z is looking for in-the-moment, location-based discounts, and 51% are looking for location-based activity suggestions, according to Adobe and Skift research from earlier this year. In another study, more than half of all airline executives surveyed said they expect that the shift to customized offers will increase passenger revenue by 15% or more.

When you have access to real-time data, you can ensure the experiences you deliver reach your customers in the right context, and that the right message is delivered at the right time. Adding the power of AI helps you create and deliver that personalized content at scale, and businesses will reap the rewards. For example, travel companies can figure out the next best offer or action based on information from previous interactions such as a user’s internet search. They could even modify the experience a customer receives when landing on their website based on the user’s search terms, which means individualized experiences for all. Imagine doing a search for “beach vacation” and then when landing on an airline’s website you see deals for flights to the Carribbean and other hotspots for beach getaways.

4. Don’t try to build Rome in a day

As in any venture, you’ll be more successful if you start with a single touchpoint and prove your capabilities, then grow from there. As Caesars Entertainment shares in its Click Z webinar, it’s a lot easier to showcase successes and build on your learning than it is to tackle an entire experience overhaul at once.

The first step for Caesars Entertainment was to migrate all of their on-premise computing to a platform that operated all on the cloud. Once all of their data and processes were in place in Adobe Experience Cloud, the organization was able to lean into AI-driven personalization.

Using Adobe Sensei’s artificial intelligence capabilities, Caesars Entertainment can now deliver personalized homepage content and more targeted promotions. For instance, if a customer has already booked a room, their homepage promotes additional services like dining and experiences. This would not have been possible without first laying a solid foundation. With that in place, the organization could move on to additional touchpoints to discover ways to customize experiences for every guest.

Your social media experience may be a great place to start. An increasing number of travelers use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to help plan their travel. Many younger travelers — 60% of Gen Z and 50% of millennials — indicate they’re consistently accessing social media while on their leisure trips.

Social media becomes a signal that allows travel brands to identify when a person may be traveling — even if it’s not with them. This a huge opportunity to gain market share and connect with consumers to enhance their journey. Chances are they may switch if the ad hoc service they are provided exceeds the brand they chose.

Dynamically supporting a traveler in-trip — like offering recommendations for activities and restaurants — is one of the biggest areas to improve and be relevant. This is where most travel brands fall in execution.

Remember that every change, no matter how small, is one move closer to stepping into the spotlight and separating your brand from the competition.

Discover more strategies for differentiating your travel and hospitality brand on the Adobe Blog.

Topics: Industry, Travel & Hospitality