WE’RE now well into the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which big data, constant connectivity, and digital workforces are increasingly part of everyday life. While few industries have mastered the opportunities that a connected world offers, airlines and other travel companies in the Gulf are making considerable headway in testing the waters of what is possible.
The facts are solid for the role that digitalisation plays in today’s travel market. From 2017 to 2021, digital transformation is predicted to generate US$16.9 billion in extra revenue each year for companies in the Middle East, according to PwC . Global online travel sales have also been growing much faster than the total industry over the past five years, with Euromonitor estimating online sales to reach US$950 billion in 2018. The internet is already used to make around 60 per cent of leisure and 40 per cent of business travel bookings, estimates Smart Insights .
With consumer expectations swaying increasingly towards the convenience and availability of always-on systems, taking the digital plunge is becoming less of a nice-to-have and more of a do-or-die. Nevertheless, organisations across the Gulf’s travel market are still asking themselves two key questions: what strategies can we use to stay ahead, and how can we ensure our offering fits what travellers want?
There are no plug and play solutions. However, there are three universal pillars that travel industry players should prioritise: product, experience, and convenience. These are the main attractions for consumers today, as well as being crucial in retaining business.
“There are three universal pillars that travel industry players should prioritise: product, experience, and convenience”
To deliver on these priorities, airlines, agencies, and other travel businesses should consider following a “Triple S” strategy–using technology to better showcase, sell, and service their customers. The aim of this strategy is to create a retail journey that really counts, maximising the value of customer interactions and boosting revenues with best-in-class merchandising.
Within the GCC, there is a clear preference for personalised experiences and products. This is something that technology can easily aid in creating. Travel intelligence is a booming business today, incorporating next-generation enterprise intelligence solutions and services to understand customers. By unlocking the potential of big data, airlines can, for example, suggest products to customers before they’ve even started searching for their next vacation. Meaningful interpretations of big data can provide entities like airlines with deeper insight into what a consumer wants, enabling them to combine results such as search and booking data with that collected by third parties – including user-generated content, currency exchange rates, or even weather information – to make an educated proposition based on understood preferences and interests.
Virtual reality (VR) has already started entering the travel mainstream. Yet until now, travel companies have mostly been interested in how they can use virtual reality to help consumers choose a vacation spot. Today’s VR also enables them to present information in a more intuitive, contextual way. With travel searching, bookings and payments now possible in virtual reality environments, VR’s use will continue to expand in building digital storefronts. In particular, virtual payments systems are now accelerating with contactless, peer-to-peer, and digital currencies amongst the recent applications to be adopted. Moreover, companies like airlines can use VR to showcase their cabins and allow customers to preview seat options before booking. For hotels, VR can be used to sell hotel packages by giving a ‘first-eye’ experience of room types, views, amenities and more. Better content and new functionalities are making VR applications practically limitless.
There’s been a lot of hype around blockchain when it comes to commercial transactions, but the technology is also set to transform customer engagement. Travel loyalty programs, for example, are typically complex and feature multicurrency elements. These can be simplified through the use of blockchain, which in essence serves as a ledger of transactions shared across a network of participants. Adopting blockchain would enable companies to rapidly add and maintain loyalty partnerships without adding complexity to their programs. It will also enable businesses in the Gulf to break out of the loyalty program mold of narrowly defined, one size fits all programs and redemption processes, which can be a hassle for customers. Of course these efforts need to be underpinned by robust cybersecurity systems and governance, with entities across the region already making headway on.
While all these technology applications are incredibly exciting, we must remember that every company has unique requirements, and every organisation has their own digitisation roadmap. There is no one size fits all solution for capturing the value of digitisation. However, by thinking about this transformation in the context of how you showcase, sell, and service customers better, travel companies in the Gulf will undoubtedly discover new business opportunity.
* The writer is managing director, Amadeus Gulf
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.