Leveraging technology to enhance the travel experience

Leveraging technology to enhance the travel experience

The biggest recent influence on how we consider, choose, book and review our travel options is without question technology.

It wouldn’t be excessive to say that it has revolutionised global tourism and as the technology trend continues to develop, so will the opportunities for travel service providers around the world.

In a recent leisure segmentation study conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board, 97 per cent of Asian travellers source information about the destination before they travel.

Furthermore, the growing demand for personalised travel planning is evidenced by the fact that 75 per cent of Internet users say that the web is the first port of call when searching for leisure travel information.

This has led to an explosion of travel-related applications for smartphones and tablets – in 2011, an estimated 17,000 travel apps were available for download, according to a report in the Washington Post.

This dramatic shift in consumer behaviour for travel planning has impacted the role of travel agencies who usually act as information brokers, passing information between buyers and suppliers of travel products.

Agencies have been forced into diversifying their business revenue streams to differentiate their offerings in order to capture stronger market interest. Long gone are the days of agencies simply being ticket providers.

An example of this is Chan Brothers Travel, one of the largest leisure travel agencies in Singapore, which recently selected Amadeus Mobile Traveller to provide it with a fully integrated mobile application supporting pre-trip, in-trip and post-trip travel needs.

Providers such as Amadeus, now provide travel companies with a mobile platform where their customers can seamlessly search, book and travel with ease right from their iPhone or Android supported mobile devices.

It is travel agencies such as Chan Brothers Travel that will survive and excel in this technological travel environment, while those who ignore technology will undoubtedly fail.

THE CUSTOMISED EXPERIENCE

It is foolhardy to think that technology in travel is a passing trend, although some in the business do cling to the hope that they will not have to confront it.

The truth is that travellers are more learned, more experienced and increasingly tech savvy and this has led to a demand for more customised travel experiences.

With information, tips and guides readily available via smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, technology has reoriented the way a traveller thinks and makes decisions.

Global smartphone subscriptions stood at six billion at the end of 2011, according to the International Telecommunication Union, and are estimated to reach approximately seven billion by 2015, with 65 per cent of those users in Asia.

In Singapore, the mobile penetration rate stood at 149.6 per cent at the end of 2011, making the city-state one of the highest in mobile phone ownership in Asia.

This desire by consumers to take charge is evidenced by the growth in online travel bookings across Asia at rates higher than those booked through traditional means.

When you consider the fact that the online travel market in Asia Pacific is valued at $70.6 billion in 2012, out of a total travel market of $294 billion, according to PhoCusWright, the potential is clear while the returns are already there.

At last year’s Web In Travel conference, a PhoCusWright analyst revealed that Asia-Pacific has already overtaken the US in terms of growth rates in online travel.

Added to this is the fact that fuelled by the growth of low-cost carriers, the percentage of Asian travellers making online bookings is expected to at least double.

Dan Lynn, CEO for AirAsia Expedia and a speaker at Web In Travel Conference (WIT), a key event under TravelRave 2012, commented: “It’s a really exciting time to be in the online travel industry in Asia Pacific.

“The travel market in Asia is seeing an exciting growth of six per cent with online travel growing twice as fast.”

He added that the company expects to see explosive growth averaging 20 to 30 per cent in the number of travellers using online services in Southeast Asia.

This trend is amplified by the growth of peer review travel sites as well as social media.

Travellers are increasingly influenced by peer review sites that provide organised content, helping them make informed choices about the type of travel experiences that want to create.

Online travel sites that provide the ability to compare and filter airline and hotel features, pricing and other important characteristics, will continue to flourish.

These are figures and trends that should have every travel provider excited at the opportunities on offer. Such connectivity with consumers is a blessing if it is tackled in the right way. Simply having a website is not enough; companies need to provide information, ease of booking, personalised options and plenty of support.

At a recent roundtable organised by the Singapore Tourism Board to promote TravelRave as a platform for inspiration and ideas for the travel industry, industry experts concluded that the personalisation of technology and travel is essential to support customers who want to be locally-connected wherever they are, and in control of the process, whether it was searching, planning, or booking their holidays.

The pace of technological change will continue to accelerate and it is crucial for businesses to understand the changing consumer needs behind this shift.

Understanding these evolving needs will enable businesses in the travel industry to better leverage the opportunities they provide.

Zubin Karkaria, CEO and Managing Director, VFS Global Group, who participated in last year’s strategic high-level Asia Travel Leaders Summit (ATLS), a thought leadership event under TravelRave, said that customer insights conducted by his group revealed a trend where travel in the future will be “needs- and experience-based rather than destination-based”.

He added that customer segmentation will be crucial and businesses will need to keep up with these evolving consumer needs.

He summarised, “The deeper our understanding of the consumer, the better we can deliver the experience to him.”

With tourism industry businesses embracing customised experiences, they need to harness new, emerging technologies that cater to each individual’s unique needs, regardless of the destination.

In addition, technology can also be used to collect information to understand customers’ evolving needs better.

Simplicity and seamless service will also be key in delivering value and convenience to travellers in the future.

With more travellers looking to optimise their trip, all elements of the travel industry ecosystem must work seamlessly, from the planning process to post trip, including transportation, accommodation, ground services and tours.

TravelRave is poised to empower businesses with new and relevant technology expertise, to effectively harness opportunities in the growing Asian travel market.

Web In Travel (WIT) Conference (15 – 17 October 2012) will provide useful and practical tips on what it takes to ensure a successful online travel business.

In its eighth edition, the event will showcase innovation across key Asian markets, share best practices on how to how to transition smoothly and succeed in the fast growing online travel space.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, editor and producer for WIT, acknowledges the driving force behind this rapid growth for online travel in Asia.

“In the last eight years, as long as WIT’s been around, we’ve seen online travel take hold in Asia as travellers in the region embrace the web with fervour. This year’s WIT will capture the dynamic changes taking place across the different markets, examine the trends that are shaking up travel and share ideas and best practices on how to build a sustainable travel business in a time of rapid change.”

The Hotel Technology Conference (16 October 2012) – new event under TravelRave this year – will feature discussions among CIOs, CTOs and other senior management of prominent hotel properties, on how existing and emerging technologies can support and help grow new revenue sources, improve operational efficiencies and enhance customer service standards.

The conference will also help businesses understand how to meet evolving guest expectations in the technology dominated travel industry.

Dan Lynn, a speaker at WIT 2012 said about TravelRave, “One of the fun things about TravelRave is being able to get together with industry peers, to learn first-hand from their experiences, and also to validate some of the ideas and assumptions that we have been working on throughout the year.”

With rapidly growing participation rates, the third edition of TravelRave is set to facilitate business opportunities, enable the best minds’ of Asia’s travel industry to share insights, exchange best practices and showcase innovations and celebrate tourism achievements.

For more information, visit www.travelrave.sg or follow @TravelRaveSG on Twitter.

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