Companies on a mission to connect travel gaze into the crystal ball

It’s notoriously difficult to predict the future but EyeforTravel spoke to a cross section of the industry to hear what they think the future will hold in the next one to five years

For better or worse, travellers today are increasingly connected to one or other device. According to a recent TripBarometer study from TripAdvisor just under half of UK travellers fall into the category of the so-called ‘connected traveller’ group and so are over half of all global travellers planning a visit to the UK in the next year.

The report defines ‘connected travellers’ as those who have used a smartphone to plan or book a trip and thishas clear implications for the industry. On thing is certain, mobile usage is undoubtedly on the rise throughout the entire traveller journey. To put this in perspective:

  • 45% of ‘connected travellers’ usually use their smartphones to book activities for a trip
  • 72% will use their smartphones to look for restaurants while on vacation
  • 34% want their accommodation to offer mobile check-in

So going forward, perhaps unsurprisingly a continued rise in mobile usage and innovation is seen as the most likely best-case scenario for travel brands into the future.

Take Metasearch firm Skyscanner, which saw a 77% global increase in visitors on mobile devices alone in 2014. Its Future of Travel report, published last year, found that technology will transform travel. Nikhil Gupta, Skyscanner’s director of hotels and car hire,believes that smartphones “will connect with semantic search to make booking and searching easy, wearable technology will aid with planning and booking journeys, and hotel rooms will become hyper-personalised”.

Smartphones will connect with semantic search to make booking and searching easy, wearable technology will aid with planning and booking journeys, and hotel rooms will become hyper-personalised

Nikhil Gupta, Director of Hotels and Car Hire, Skyscanner

Going further, wearable technology in the form of ‘digital travel buddies’ will be part of the change in how consumers communicate with brands and interact with comparison sites. “This will allow another level of communication between a brand and the traveller,” Gupta says.  This shift in the way the travel sector works will, he believes, benefit both the industry and the consumer. The consumer will experience a stress-free experience personalised to their needs while companies will be able to tailor offerings accordingly.

In a similar vein, Daniel Wishnia, Director of Digital Promotion & eCommerce Manager at GCH Hotel Group, predicts the use of new technologies such as mobile devices, wearable and virtual reality as the key to improving customer engagement, personalised communication and a unique guest experience. To this end, his organisation is using an innovative virtual reality (VR) application to showcase its MICE portfolio.

Best-case vs worst-case

From Jens Wohltorf, CEO and co-founder, Blacklane, a professional chauffeur service, we hear that a worst-case scenario will see existing customer service, booking and billing stay largely the same as today, or with a few incremental improvements.

In a best-case scenario, however, the travel chain will be completely closed so that travellers can book a flight, hotel and professional driver service together and at a confirmed price. Moreover this will be able to be done in any language and in any city.

“Behind the scenes, travel and calendar providers are also building an integrated system to automate the travel bookings mentioned above so customers simply enter a meeting date and time, and the system does the rest,” says Wohltorf.

For Fraser Brown, Director of Heathrow Express, the best-case future scenario will see rail passenger numbers continue increase with a greater number of air-rail links in other destinations around the world. “That would help change passengers’ perception and behaviour and those who are used to travelling by rail in their home country are more likely to do so when they travel abroad,” he says.

Heathrow hopes to start work on a third runway within the next five years, which would help to alleviate car pollution. “We see Heathrow Express as vitally important to these plans,” says Brown.

As an example of what Heathrow Express is doing, it hopes to extend its service to the west of the UK with Western Rail Access and it hopes to do so within the next five years. This would help a greater number of people who are relatively local to Heathrow to travel to the airport by train, reducing the number of cars on the road.

Listening carefully

A broad general theme that few would disagree with comes from Gloria Molins, Founder & CEO at trip4real.

“If I can predict the future,” she says, “in five years, the companies that have been listening carefully to their travellers will be at the top of the list [when it comes to any part of choosing, researching or booking any part of the journey]”.

Let’s open the doors to young people and invest in them: train them and then give them space to breathe and create.”

Chryssa Oikonomidou, General Manager, Tourboks

Although brands, she says, will always need to invest in advertising that will matter less for customers choosing a destination or a service provider.

For Chryssa Oikonomidou, General Manager at Tourboks, the future will depend on tapping the youth of today.

“We will live to see much greater things in the industry from the young minds that will follow, provided that we spend the time to share our knowledge and give them a fair chance in the industry. My point is this: let’s open the doors to young people and invest in them: train them and then give them space to breathe and create.”

To hear more insights from Skyscanner, trip4real, Tourboks, Heathrow Express, GCH and Blacklane join us at EyeforTravel’s upcoming Connected Traveller event (Oct 22 – 23). Don’t miss it!

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