How digital can improve the travel experience

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Digital Assistants

Digital Transforms customer relationship and service in any industry. Today let’s focus on the travel industry.

How could players in the travel industry use digital to go to the next stage ? An frequent answer is “oh…digital is already everywhere in travel. The industry adopted it.” That’s true to some extent but partly wrong.

True because the industry has digitized most of their existing processes (booking, customer relationship, boarding cards, room keys) and, after a long hesitation, decided to meet the customer where he was and talk to him through the channels he uses. And indispensable but not that exceptional update. Keeping the promise, bridging the gap and making oneself accessible when and where the customer needs it is basic politeness, the least one can do. Of course, the customer experience has improved but there is no reason to over-celebrate. The industry moved from the stone age to the electricity age 5 years after their customers. The customer appreciates the effort but will not over-value a business that’s only doing its job right.

The travel industry has done nothing but catching-up

The next step is to come with a new value proposition. Among the existing option, I’ll insist on assistants and personalization of service.

Yet, everybody is doing customer service. Right. But not at the same level and not with the same level of personalization. There are those with a “normal” customer service and those with a priority line and a dedicated concierge. Nothing surprising : such a service costs attention and human time so it’s reserved for premium customer segments.

But one key differentiator of digital is that it allows mass customization at scale and, by relying on platforms, to provide anyone with what used to be provided to a few. When delivering a great experience requires less attention and human time, niche initiative can scale and anyone can be provided with a personalized and proactive service.

In last november I attended the « T3 Business Forum, Tourism, Transport, Technology »event  in Paris, an event co-organized by Aéroports de Paris, Air France, Amadeus et Skyboard, and the  Welcome City Lab.

Startups where exhibiting in four areas :

  • Create : smart equipments
  • Facilitate : solutions for customer relationship
  • Enrich : traveler experience
  • Entertain : tomorrow’s leisures.

Digital personal assistants : the next frontier of travel experience

Ironically, I found the most interesting things about the customer experience in the “enrich” zone, what shows how thin the frontier is between customer relationship and customer experience.

I found two startups offering what is a major improvement in customer relationship.

The fist one is named PATH. PATH is a travel assistant that informs travelers at each steps of their journey. Departure, arrival, delays, strikes, gate change…

 

path assistant digital

Some will say that there’s nothing new here. In fact, not really. Not every travel business is offering such service, not to any category of travelers and, most of all, they seldom cover the whole travel experience. What I mean is that having an hotel and an airline sending me notifications, each on its side, is one thing, but from a traveler perspective, this is one travel so there must me one touch point. Bringing everything together and breaking the airline/hotel silo is closer to the travel experience a passenger expects. By covering airlines, hotels, car rentals etc…. PATH follows the passenger’s experience chain.

PATH follows the passenger’s experience chain

But that’s not all. PATH can be proactive and make suggestions. For instance an airport/hotel transfer. Last, PATH can go way further. According to you tastes, preferences, the application can suggest you restaurants while at destination. As a matter of fact, PATH is not only an alerting service but an assistant one can interact with.

Can PATH solve issues ? Yes and no. In fact the application forwards the issue to the right person and does the follow-up job. What leads us to explore the business model of the product and whom it’s designed for.

PATH customers are enterprises and travel operators. Businesses because they can offer this service to their traveling employees. All the information is gathered from the travel desk when it exists or from confirmation emails. Operators because they can offer the service to their own clients (hotels, tourism office…) in a white label model.

That’s why PATH does not handle travel incidents : being in a B2B2C approach, this part of the job is the what the “second B”  offers to their customer. It’s clear that PATH do no want to “uberize” and upset its business partners.

In short, if PATH is not for you and me (at least not directly) it’s a good example of how businesses and travel professionals can deliver a superior experience to their traveling employees/customers through a platform that works at scale.

But I’m still convinced that A B2C version of PATH could be successful on the market.

The second startup that grabbed my attention is Wiidii. Wiidii is an hybrid personal assistant that, unlike PATH, handles travel issues because in addition to technology there’s an human concierge service that takes over the software when needed.

wiidii

Practically speaking, it means that you can ask Wiidii to book an appointment at the hairdresser’s, keep you updates with the progress of you bookings…

Wiidii : a concierge and an assistant in your mobile

Since PATH and Wiidii had booths next to to each other, I don’t see them as competitors. There’s a slight overlap but I see PATH a professional tool dedicated to my travel experience while Wiidii may be less focused on this point (but enough for leisure travelers) but will help me in my live of overwhelmed employee.

Wiidly has both an enterprise and individual offering, what confirms the difference in positionning.But the fact both have a B2B offering is a strong signal : it’s up to operators to add value for their customer. If the end user eventually builds his own travel experience management system, operators and industry players will miss a chance to justify their existence, costs, and show their value. Uberization is not that far : if tourism players don’t offer such services, other will do and move old players out of the chain.

Personal digital (or phygital) assistants are a major playground for digital technologies in the traveler experience. But besides these two startups, I’d also like to mention other services that were not showcased at the event but have been on my radar for a while.

Wayblazer is a about the travel experience, not the product

The first one is  Wayblazer.

wayblazer voyage digital

Once could think that it’s a purely B2B tool that helps travel agencies to build their customer’s travels. Yes, but by understanding natural language and focusing on intention, it offers the best possible experience to the travel agent to the passenger who will get a unique and personalized offer.

To put the long story short, Wayblazer kills the chronology of travel construction.  Before, we used to start from our needs or desires, perform searches to find places, then find how to get there, hotels to stay etc. Now, with Wayblazer, we’ll be able to say  ” somewhere with both cultural and beach activities, not further than 6 hrs away and where humidity is low in december”. And the tool will refine the search by interacting with the person. The idea is to stick to the traveler’s intention instead of proposing trips based on pre-packaged offers or common beliefs. It’s more about the experience than the product.

Ivy welcomes and services hotel guests

Also note that if, today, Wayblazer is a tool for travel agencies, I don’t see any reason for it not to become a service for the end customer one day.

Wayblazer relies on the IBM Watson technology which potential for customer relationship is praised by industry specialist. Customer relation is also the business of GoMoments, which recently announced Ivy, another services based on Watson.

 

Ivy

Ivy is a solution designed for hotels willing to improve their customer experience and relationship.

A video is better than any long text…

 

And you ? Any use case in mind to improve improve the travel experience through digital technologies ?

Image Credit : digital assistant by antishock  via Shutterstock