There is perhaps no more pressing topic in 2020 connected to digital transformation than the travel industry’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are testing times for travel companies, who have their vulnerabilities brought into sharp relief. The pandemic is acting as a catalyst for change in organisations across industries and sectors on a scale not seen in decades. The mandate now for companies throughout the travel sector is to accelerate and evolve in their digital transformation journey to ensure that when the crisis subsides, they are well-positioned to bounce back strongly.
To understand how digital transformation has taken on a new form in today’s travel sector, we’ll have to first look at how it has traditionally shaped the industry. Digital transformation has always been rooted in the travel ecosystem. The industry has traditionally been one of the best and earliest adopters of the latest technological advances, having been among the first to sell its products online, back in the 1990s.
But while the travel sector has seen many digital pilots and initiatives, these often have not added up to a coherent and integrated digital engine to drive businesses forward in an increasingly competitive and disrupted marketplace. Beyond the hype and wonders promised by digitalisation, staying focused on the customer has never been more crucial, and travel industry players are now leveraging emerging technologies to focus on compelling customer experiences and innovate new service offerings, as part of their transformation journeys.
Articulating the north star of digital transformation should be the first step on any company’s tech agenda. For travel, one might argue that the north star of transformation lies at the point of seamless experiences through every point in the traveller’s journey, smoothing out the turbulence that often accompanies travel. This highlights the increasing importance of collaboration between travel ecosystem players in order to realise the dream of the ‘connected trip’, which would greatly excite and benefit consumers.
So, what would be the second step? In customer-focused sectors like travel, transformation is all about creating the agility to spot and respond to customer needs even before your customers recognise what they want. Beyond this relentless focus on the consumer, the prized ability to craft customer-defined experiences boils down to having access to quality real-time data and insights. Customer experience analytics, powered by machine learning and big data, is extremely helpful and important for greater personalisation, targeted offers and to link customers with experiences matched to their preferences. Travel companies should also embrace experimentation, which has been an immense game-changer at Booking.com, where A/B testing has become a big part of what we do to introduce new functionalities and improve the overall consumer experience.
For an even fresher take on customer experience, travel companies should also look outside their industry to understand evolving customer expectations. Travellers develop preferences and needs based on their interactions with all companies, not only when they’re in airplanes or hotels. There is a potential to boost digital accessibility if travel companies were to tap on technologies, such as machine learning and data science, which is prevalent across different industries and environments to enhance the customer journey.
It is crucial to recognise that digital transformation is not just about data, software and hardware. What has to change is not only the technology, but also how one organises, operates, and behaves as an organisation. More importantly, it is important to not lose sight of the customers by leveraging their ever-evolving preferences and insights for action. Last but not least, it is essential to exercise empathy if travel companies want to truly know their customers, and have the hope of solving their problems and meeting their needs – especially during these challenging times.
To that end, there is still a journey ahead of the travel sector and the best days are yet to come. Investment in digital transformation and innovation should be high on the list of priorities for travel companies, who must look to embrace digital technologies to realise near-term efficiencies, future-proof their businesses for the long-term, and grow customer loyalty to build a lasting, resilient legacy