HOW HOTELIERS CAN LEARN FROM THE TRAVEL SECTOR ABOUT DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY

THE DIGITAL HOTELIER-Dealing in a smarter way with savvy customers

The profile of the travel customer is changing. Fifteen years ago, the luxury consumer was a middle- aged white male; today luxury consumers are younger, more diverse and, more often, women. In this edition David Esseryk, Chief Digital and Marketing Of cer (e-commerce, customer experience, loyalty, brand marketing and IT) at SEH United Hoteliers, looks at the challenges for travel companies in understanding the preferences of this growing demographic and developing services that appeal to it, while managing a diverse range of customers in the same location often via a single business model.

A broad array of travel consumers — those seeking high-end experiences or budget-friendly options with either business or recreational itineraries — want instant, tailored experiences from their mobile devices, whether making reservations or checking loyalty points. Travellers today are younger and more technology savvy and want an Amazon- like experience when they book travel.

Beyond transaction ease, mobile allows travel companies to deliver added value during BEYOND the overall customer experience providing instant travel updates, such as flight status alerts before they become common knowledge, as well targeted offers from theatres, restaurants and sports venues in a traveller’s destination.

Travellers today also expect constant connectivity — for example, wireless Internet access in rooms, throughout hotel properties, on cruise ships, in-flight — which has significant cost implications for travel companies, but is ultimately the price of doing business today. Wi-Fi is a price-of-entry to do business. If electricity prices go up, you don’t restrict people’s use of heat and air conditioning in the room. If water prices go up, you don’t tell them they can only have a shower every other day, and you need to think about Wi-Fi access in the same way. You can’t tell people, “It’s busy right now, come back later”.

BEYOND TRANSACTION EASE, MOBILE ALLOWS TRAVEL COMPANIES TO DELIVER ADDED VALUE DURING THE OVERALL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Travel companies also have to be ready to meet evolving customer expectations as technology progresses. Yet, teams focused on responding to the myriad digital demands of today do not always have the time to investigate the possible advancements of tomorrow.

In order to build stronger relationships with customers through digital, many travel companies have had to revisit the types of leadership skills their teams need, balancing numerous considerations from a growing emphasis on social media to the always-important cultural fit.

Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things stand to further revolutionise the customer travel experience and are not far- off possibilities, but imminent next steps. Companies in the sector must continuously evolve how they think about the talent they need to reach the next — and often quickly approaching — destination of the digital journey. Although technical skills will remain important, companies in the travel, hospitality and leisure spaces will go farther with leaders who possess a willingness to explore new digital possibilities.