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Business and leisure travel is a huge industry. Over the past several years there have been some major disruptions in the industry. Consumers have taken to online travel enterprises to book their flights, hotels, and rental cars through what has come to be known as “comprehensive” online travel agencies, such as Expedia and Priceline.

But new disruptions are in the works with startups that promise even more for travelers. With security and identification advances, such as secure databases where travelers will be able to use their fingerprints or other biometric procedures to verify their identities, the entire screening process will be streamlined. This will greatly improve the efficiency of expedited travel visa application procedures. And venture capitalists are taking notice. In 2017 alone, investors pumped $5.3 billion into new travel-related startups. And for the most part those startups have embraced four trends that are overtaking the industry.

1. Providing Experiences Rather Than Just Booking Arrangements

Travel sites are becoming far more comprehensive in the services they provide. Beyond just information and bookings, they are moving into the arena of providing more experiential opportunities for their travelers – events, restaurants, tours, and access to content regarding all of these.

Advances is in the areas of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are proving to be an exciting innovation for many industries. The travel industry is no exception. Travel companies provide much greater value to their customers by giving them the ability to virtually place themselves into resorts and attractions, and experience them in real-time before making decisions about booking.

2. Use of New Technologies

It is vital that the travel industry takes advantage of the newest technologies.  There are three that are becoming more prevalent and necessary for travelers.

Personal Assistants: Siri has a lot of competition now. When airlines, hotels, and even transport services can provide personal assistants to ease and streamline traveler’s experiences, they will have a competitive edge. When customers can access the travel site’s chatbot and be apprised of delays, weather conditions, report late arrivals, and a host of other information, they are happier and feel appreciated.

Also read: Is a blockchain-based loyalty programme really necessary and beneficial, like in Singapore Airlines’ case?

Blockchain: While blockchain was originally designed for financial transactions involving cryptocurrencies, it has proved to be a valuable tool for a number of other industries, travel included.

  • Security and Identification: With a database of travelers, customers may soon be able to use their fingerprints or other biometric procedures to verify their identities, and the entire screening process can be streamlined.
  • Passports and Visas: These are documents that are critical and yet subject to criminal activity. When blockchain technology can be used to immutably store these documents, potential for fraud is minimised. As Adam Boalt, founder of TravelVisa.com states: “We can assist travelers with all of their visa needs. But we also envision a day when those visas are permanently stored in a blockchain environment and accessed through password keys, eliminating not only fraud but the terrible hassles involved if and when passengers misplace or have their passports stolen. It’s a technology that holds great promise for our industry.”
  • Luggage Tracking: when blockchain can provide a complete history of the “travels” of a piece of luggage and when customers can track their own baggage travel, there is a convenience that manual tracking cannot provide.
  • Loyalty Programs: Travelers are often confused about loyalty programs and exactly what is offered. If all of this information is stored in a blockchain environment, it is accessible and usable in real-time during the travel experience.

AI: The use of big data in the travel industry has already been mentioned, but it is worth repeating. As travel companies gather information about customer demographics and what they want, they are able to make marketing decisions based on that data, even predicting future travel needs and wants of their current customers and prospects.

3. Personalisation is Crucial

Access to big data has democratised many industries, and the travel niche is no exception. We all understand how Amazon uses data to segment out demographics based upon purchases, to push out recommendations for additional purchases, and to even predict future consumer behaviors based upon the data they acquire and churn. They use this data to successfully market to demographic segments.

Travel startups are also embracing big data because it is now so accessible. By gathering and analysing big data, travel companies can understand preferences of segments of their customer base and even those of individuals. They then have the ability to offer specific promotions and experience that are tailored specifically to those audience segments. This is a huge marketing tool that is now promising to transform how travel companies interact with their audiences.

4. Diversity and Inclusion

Given the geopolitical events of 2017 (U.S. travel bans, Brexit, a surge of nationalism, and threats of terrorism), the travel industry has been impacted in significant ways. To their credit, many larger players in the industry have all taken a strong stand with messages of diversity and inclusion. Any travel startup must emulate these larger enterprises and promote these same messages to its audiences.

Whether you are a startup that envisions eventual acquisition by a larger travel enterprise, or a company that sees itself becoming a major competitor in the industry, these four trends must be embraced. It is what venture capitalists want to see – innovation, use of the latest technologies, the ability to garner a large customer base through amazing experiences, and a commitment to diversity.

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