Travel Industry Technology Trends in 2018

Revolutionary tech trends will vigorously entertain the travel industry in 2018. With all recent innovations, a new window of opportunities has opened in 2017. Johnny Thorsen, VP of Mezi, says it was the most important year in the travel world since 1994 (source). Technology innovations are definitely in the front seat leading the way on this transient journey.

One concept that drives all technology innovations is the Smart Society. More and more countries are recognising the growth opportunities and therefore are moving towards building smart societies (source). The aptitude with which smart societies are expected to grow, shows the influence they will have on a range of industries. According to CTA, the global spending on smart cities is expected to reach $34.35 billion by 2020 (source). Therefore, a future with Smart Cities is one of the inevitable trends to influence the travel industry in 2018.

To ensure continued arrivals growth and sustainable expansion, cities are steaming ahead with initiatives to become smart cities. – Euromonitor International

Cashless Revolution

A big step towards a “smarter” society is the growth of digital payment facilities – Euromonitor International

From WeChat and Alipay to Mobile wallets and Bitcoin, countries and companies are adapting their infrastructures towards the cashless society. How does this affect the travel industry? With travellers’ high expectations of booking process simplicity level, travel companies will need to stay ahead by reducing friction at the point of payment.

While other parts of the world are discussing how would a future of cashless society look like, Asian countries are already living it. With advanced infrastructure technology and high digital payment adoption rates, they are leading the cashless revolution (source). China with mobile wallets as WeChat and Alipay, and South Korea with Samsung Pay are on their way to become almost cashless.

What other countries and travel companies can benchmark out is the influence of the convenience that travellers are getting with simple and seamless transactions. The fact that WeChat and Alipay handle 94% of China’s US$5 trillion mobile wallet transaction (source), clearly shows the potential of e-wallets.

Travel companies and countries, in general, will need to evolve in line with the cashless revolution to ensure their share of the travel market. Thinking differently and getting creative in developing their own technology platforms and QR codes for e-wallet transactions is one way to act.

However, there is another aspect that presents an opportunity for all sectors in the travel industry, and that is the Chinese travel market growth. Considering that 200 million Chinese citizens are expected to travel abroad by 2021 (source), it is a wise strategic decision for travel companies to understand how Chinese consumers search, shop and pay. In this direction, accepting WeChat and Alipay platforms will give travel businesses access to the 1 billion monthly users and share of the Chinese outbound market (source).

There are few European players already adapting to this concept. From European carriers KLM and Finnair offering WeChat payments and customer service (source), to Finland taking this to the next level with becoming the first country to provide all-Alipay travel experience (source).

While it is certain that countries and travel companies will follow the trend of the cashless revolution, there is the uprising of the new trend in the digital payment world – the blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

Travel Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies

Travel Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies are definitely the two hottest topics this year, and possibly the ones bringing the most confusion in their interpretation. While Blockchain has been mainly associated with the technology behind the cryptocurrencies, its potential goes way beyond that. Blockchain represents a giant secure digital ledger that keeps track of every single transaction of any particular asset – cryptocurrencies being only one of them (source).  The main pillars on which this technology is built are trust, immutability, disintermediation and decentralization (source).

As for the crypto world, we could comment that the ecstatic growth of Bitcoin, the first decentralised cryptocurrency, provoked the rise of now 1500+ cryptocurrencies. TOA Coin, JIO Token, Travel Coin, BitAir, Lif, PallyCoin are just a few cryptocurrencies active in the travel industry (source).

Other than the buzz, the volatility of the cryptocurrencies raises the question of whether they are mature enough for advance customer payments for travel products. Daniel Scott, Co-founder of CoinCorner, is optimistic and believes cryptocurrencies will stay and stabilise in the future. However, there are many thought leaders like Warren Buffet and Robert Herjavec who believe this to be another bubble waiting to explode (source).

While for the cryptocurrencies we will have to wait and see whether they will remain in the game, the situation with Blockchain technology is slightly different. From the Oracle claiming it to be today’s most disruptive emerging technology (source) to Skift naming it ‘the travel industry’s Space Race’ (source), it will undoubtedly disrupt the travel industry. Starting from loyalty programs, automation in billing processes, to hotel inventory, it will be a dynamic journey for travel businesses.

Even though the blockchain technology is still in its infant phase, the benefits that it brings to the table are opening up so many opportunity windows that could completely change how the travel industry operates.

Winding Tree, the travel distribution platform that caught the attention of many investors is changing the role of middleman in the travel market. According to COO & Founder Pedro Anderson, the idea behind Winding Tree technology is decentralising the complex travel distribution. With their platform, all innovators would be able to build in the travel booking space without having to deal with gatekeepers and intermediaries, complex legacy systems and double marginalisation.

If we take a closer look at the hospitality market, hotels are the most dependable on intermediaries, hence paying quite high fees. Blockchain platforms will be a game changer by providing a new place to list their inventory and reach mass exposure without paying high intermediary fees. Following the example of Lufthansa Group and Air New Zealand, Nordic Hotel Groups is testing the Winding Tree platform and looking to be the first company in the hospitality industry to experience the benefits of this technology (source).

Another important area where blockchain technology will have a significant impact is the loyalty programs. The challenge for all travel businesses when it comes to loyalty programs is to maintain high consumer engagement. The reason behind it is the complexity and diversity of the loyalty programs. Every travel business has its own loyalty scheme with different features and conditions. Therefore, consumers are required to visit each platform and get familiar with all different conditions in order to receive their prize.

Blockchain technology opens up the opportunity to simplify the process and store all loyalty programs in one place. Few companies that use blockchain technology to create blockchain based programs are Travelkoin, Loyal and Trippki (source). Following the behavioural changes in consumers, seeking simplicity and instant rewards, these start-ups recognise the benefits of seamless and customised loyalty programs (source).

Artificial Intelligence

While AI joined the hype in tech trends a few years ago, we can say that in the travel industry it started its momentum in 2017 (source). With the high demand for personalized customer experience and benefits of simplified and holistic booking processes, travel businesses couldn’t resist to at least test what difference can AI make for them.

Although each segment of the travel industry will apply AI differently, there are still common areas where AI implementation can equally improve performance among airlines, hotels, car rental companies or cruises. These basic features start with big data analysis and predicting customer preferences, which then allow travel businesses to provide tailor-made offers and unique customer experience. Another field where big data analysis plays  an essential role is the dynamic pricing. With AI, travel companies can adjust their prices more frequently and accurately, taking into account  not only competitiveness but many factors at once. The list can start with seasonality and then it can add up demand and availability, weather forecast, booking patterns, preferences, urgency and many more.

Chatbots

Leaders in the travel industry have already applied some of the AI solutions and have experienced the positive impact. Skyscanner is leading the way with chatbots application, offering an extensive range of booking solutions with Amazon Alexa, Facebook messenger, Microsoft Cortana, and Skype Group Chat Travel bot (source). In terms of recommendations, Kayak with its map view gives customers suggestions for places and activities in their visiting area (source).

When it comes to support in the booking process, Booking.com is ahead of the game with its AI-powered Booking Assistant chatbot that currently answers up to 30% of customer inquiries in less than 5 minutes (source). Further, the hotel industry is going one step further in the customer service area with implementation of AI concierges. Hilton’s  AI concierge Connie gives guests suggestions of activities and places they can visit (source) and Rose AI concierge at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas takes over all phone inquiries (source).

And then one very interesting case for the role of AI in dynamic pricing is Starwood Hotels. With its development of analytics engine for price adjustments on the fly, they improved demand forecasting by 20% since 2015 (source).

It is definitely appealing to be part of the future with AI, especially when we know that its application and influence was just warming up. However, AI opens up questions not only about its ability to develop human-like capabilitiesbut also about the level of its advancement. Could we see in near future a completely smart hotel? Or a smart airport where travellers can manage all processes from ticketing to luggage and car rental pickups without human support? Could AI cave in the way to pilotless airplanes and autonomous cars? Will machine learning and robots completely replace travel agents, pricing analysts or they will act as a supporting factor in the process?

The current preference of travellers in terms of customer support is still leaning towards human interaction. In stresful situations like a cancelled flight, people prefer talking to people (source). It is perfectly logical for a customer to prefer actual human empathy, rather than a programmed response from a machine.

The result is not different when it comes to autonomous planes. According to UBS report, only 17% of travellers are willing to trust trained pilots with their live (source).

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality – another buzzword in the travel industry in 2018. Although it started its popularity in 2008, experts believe 2018 to be the year when augmented reality will become an actual reality in many industries (source).
Augmented reality technology, spicing up the image of existing environment with artificial elements, opens up a whole new window of creative opportunities for travel businesses. Being able to give customers an immersive and authentic experience, AR will definitely change how businesses interact with their customers and how customers make decisions. While all sectors of the travel industry will gain the advantage with AR in winning customers attention, OTAs will be the ones benefiting the most.

64% of travellers say they would like to ‘try before they buy – (source)

We know that for consumers, travel choices are driven by perception and are mostly visually orientated (source). Consequently, the biggest challenge for tour operators is to prove their offers’ worth to travelers in the online booking process. Now, with augmented reality, tour operators can capture real video experiences of tours and allow travellers to experience them during their online booking journey. This allows customers to have much better representation and feel confident in the product they are buying. Furthermore, the easier decision making will result in higher satisfaction for travellers and deserved loyalty for tour operators.

Two other very appealing applications of augmented reality technology are navigation and translation services. When it comes to navigation, car rental companies can use AR to their advantage and create an immersive navigation experience in top destinations. However, navigation combined with live translation brings the travel experience to another level, giving customers augmented directions in the language of choice throughout their journey.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the degree of innovativeness in the technology world is only going forward. The cutting-edge advances in robotics, codification of money, security and big data will change not only how industries will operate, but also how we work and live. The travel industry, among others, will have to get in line and find a way to use this rapid changes as an advantage in order to remain in the already highly competitive race.

But what  travel businesses must not  forget, is that technology trends, however important, shouldn’t be their main focus. The main focus are the customers and the behavioural changes they are experiencing. The traveller of the future seeks simplicity and much higher level of quality service, personalized offers, frictionless payments and unique experiences. And every travel business needs to recognise their strongest attributes in winning the travellers’ attention and balance them with the, relevant for them, technology trends. While for ones blockchain technology could be the answer, for others that might be robotics or AR .

Being experts in the car rental industry, we believe that for the car rental businesses a strong influence from all these technologies will have the advancement in dynamic pricing and demand forecasting with AI, navigation and translations with AR, as well as simplification of loyalty programs with the help of Blockchain technology.

At Car Target Group we recognise the relevance of these revolutionary trends, actively work on innovations and incorporate what we find relevant to our success story.