The collective opinion of a panel of technology trailblazers speaking at the popular technology and social media session held as part of the two-day World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit 2013, which concluded in Abu Dhabi today, is that travel must “get personal.”
The type of technology available won’t matter in 10 years, but personalization and the humanization of the travel dreaming, booking and sharing experience will be at the heart of technological innovation.
Their advice, to “get personal” was taken on board by as assembled audience of international tourism and travel industry professionals, with session moderator, Carroll Rheem, Principal Analyst, Research, PhoCusWright, highlighting the instinctive nature of Internet usage in 21st century travel decision making.
“With every click, tap, purchase and abandon, consumers are telling us exactly what they want but we are only just now beginning to listen,” she elaborated.
According to Rheem, the evolution of online connectivity has created what she terms the ‘splinternet’, with accessibility to multiple devices allowing consumers to hop from computer to tablet to mobile phone and back again. “We are at yet another turning point for technological innovation that will “refit and refine the traveler experience at a much more fundamentally human level,” she said.
In emerging markets, mobile user growth among some of the world’s most populous nations is transforming the travel sector. “We are entering a mobile age. Americans spend on average 94 minutes on apps every day, and there are over 200 million mobile users in China, which is 50% of the total population. The growth rate is six times that of the Internet and is also spreading into second tier cities,” said Jenna Qian, Head of Investor Relations & Communications, Qunar the country’s most popular one-stop travel search website.
But travel destinations and hotels are “missing the point” according to Charles Armstrong, Founder and CEO of TourWrist. “They try to interject themselves into consumer dialogues but these conversations are happening without your participation; and they are real, and believed. The real opportunity is to find out how to influence those opportunities,” he remarked.
Statistically, Armstrong highlighted the fact that by the end of 2014, half of all traffic to travel websites will originate from mobiles, generating US$26 billion in bookings. He calls mobile devices “modern journals,” as users continue to want to share their personal experiences with friends and family. “There’s an opportunity to tap into it as travel professionals. This is marketing gold, but there is a huge disconnect between what we are paying to create and what consumers are naturally creating themselves.”
Using spherical capture solution technology to deliver a 360-degree panoramic and interactive experience, TourWrist is replacing outdated virtual tour technology, with the ability to yield a 67% increase in bookings, confirmed Armstrong.
Involving the consumer in producing credible travel content is essential to successful brand building and Lee McCabe, Global Head of Travel for Facebook, revealed that with 25% of people viewing vacation photos through a social media site, this is the catalyst for their future travel plans, with 11% booking their next trip to the place in the picture.
“Smartphone usage is now 25% for Facebook and Instagram; that’s 10% more than calling or texting, so clearly it’s an important part of travel. In the US, nearly 10% of sales this year will be via mobile, but the core of mobile technology is all about people,” he said.
And, he says, people should also be the visual and campaign messaging focus of the hospitality and travel industry Facebook personas. “Don’t make the brand or the location the hero; make people the hero and connect with your brand advocates.”
Quick fix solutions are not the definitive answer, according to Jesse Maddox, CEO and Co-Founder of TripLingo – which provides more than just a translation platform to replace conventional phrasebooks – who believes that the opportunity is there for travel companies and brands to collaborate and leverage technology to improve the experience across the spectrum.
Like McCabe, Maddox says that personalization is key in driving value for the traveler. “It’s about the power of the devices at our disposal,” he said. TripLingo offers multiple services including access to a live translator, direct voice translation and a customised phrasebook to suit individual traveler requirements.
“Our major focus is working with other brands. We don’t consider ourselves an app, we are a platform. It’s not just about the technology; we didn’t invent the flash cards or phrasebook, it’s just about making it better,” he commented.
Summing up, Tourwrist’s Armstrong issued a gentle reminder about the true nature of travel. “Travel is about joy. We’ve not been expressing that enough over the last couple of days, and we need to make sure that we don’t lose that delight,” he concluded.