New tech to play key role in influencing travel plans
Keeping updated on the various new technologies that are available and likely to have an impact on the way that people will travel in the future is a great way to generate revenues in an increasingly competitive landscape, travel experts say.
"We are all different people when we travel," says Nabil El Shafeay, founder and CEO of Visit & Go. "Travel is all about the experiences that are found in different destinations; and travellers today are increasingly looking for personalised experiences. They want to enjoy a destination and all that it offers. Before you had companies thinking of their customers as different boxes that they needed to cater to; today, however, you have to look at customers as individuals."
One of the best ways of ensuring this is by collecting and analysing traveller data, he noted. Similarly, Sameer Bagul, EVP and managing director of Cleartrip.com, noted that there is a lot of data that is present in the whole travel ecosystem.
"The future will revolve around companies using that data to personalise experiences for customers," he said. "There are many devices available today that have the potential to use the personalised data related to your travels to make bookings instantly. Chatbots are increasingly being used in the industry already, but there is still a level of complexity that they need to achieve."
He added: "I am certain that facial recognition is a technology that we will see being actively utilised in the next few quarters. Virtual reality is another technology that is already being used in various industries. The travel industry will be no different, as VR is responsible for effectively increasing personal interaction. The need of the customer to talk to someone will be met with VR. The test is going to be in conversion, and whether players in the industry will be able to create the content to reach potential customers on these new age portals."
When looking for the perfect flight, Bagul said that customers overwhelmingly look for convenience with less than 20 per cent booking a connecting flight. "For hotels, in this region customers look for value and comfort. Most customers prefer to book a 4-star or higher in East Asia, and a three or 4-star in Europe. When travelling, 34 per cent of trips have an average duration of up to six days, 29 per cent are for seven to 20 days, and 37 per cent are for 21 days or more. The UAE is a last-minute market, with 44 per cent of travellers booking within a week of travel."
Matthew Sliedrecht, director of marketing at Cleartrip.com, noted that online travel was valued at $1.6 trillion in 2017, and that online travel agents (OTAs) are slowly increasing their contribution in the Middle East region.
"The Middle East has some of the highest Internet and mobile penetration rates in the world," he said. "Online markets are growing 400 per cent compared to offline channels. There are still massive opportunities in bringing offline travellers to online channels. OTAs are increasingly focused on making the booking experience as seamless as possible. To make travel even more attractive to travellers, they also offer rewards and other connectivity options. Airlines can certainly benefit from partnerships with various OTAs that have become popular in recent years."
Albert Dias, co-founder and CTO at Musafir, said that many organisations still struggle to understand the needs of millennial travellers. "Millennials are hungry for data and they will do their research about every aspect of their trip and booking. They will look at how a hotel that they are staying at has fared in cleanliness scores, because they know that there are several websites where they can get that data. They will also look at how far are various points such as public transportation stations from where they are staying."
All of this, he said, is user generated content, which millennials trust more than anything else nowadays.
"For the longest period of time, companies found it difficult to believe that high ranking officials would prefer to stay at an airbnb, but that is exactly what is happening among millennials today. For a short one or two day trip, they might prefer to stay at a hotel, but for longer stays, we are increasingly seeing the preference for airbnbs. Many of them don't care for the frills as long as they have the convenience and personalisation that they are looking for. We can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future, especially as the sharing economy takes off."