Digitally reconstructing the travel industry

Despite economic fluctuations, the travel season is in full force. While recent years have been challenging, they have also unveiled new pathways for growth and transformation, especially in digital reconstruction. Travelers can now enjoy seamless, flexible and personalized travel experiences, as the hangover from the pandemic sparked a digital boom and rise of self-service processes. Now is the time for travel providers to put strategy and competitive-edge building at the forefront, to fend off competition and start prioritizing giving customers the feel-good factor they seek. The significance of exceptional digital customer experience is also supported by how 73% of people get some sort of health benefit when taking a leisure holiday.

As more travel-goers desire exhilaration and thrills from their travels, this puts more pressure on travel and hospitality providers to meet rising expectations. Not only do travelers want to be connected geographically – they also want to be connected digitally. In today’s digitally saturated world, there is a growing demand for flexibility when it comes to travel, with an insistence on more diverse contact options and a rising preference for digital channels, especially among the younger generations who yearn for immersion and connection. This is something that travel providers can capitalize from, as the “self-service” hype allows businesses to boost operational efficiency, and emerging technologies can provide analytical insights and augment productivity. Truly, what we call a “High-Tech, High Touch” approach wherein the best of technology is enhanced with human touch.

This will bring back the feel-good travel factor as we progress through the year and beyond while also assisting in getting the economy back on track. As tech and digital transformation become increasingly woven into the fabric of the travel industry, the providers who embrace it will grow with the same pace of demand and fulfil the feel-good factor travelers are after.

The upsurge of digital customer service with AI

Self-service has become somewhat of a norm in the airport, with some airlines even transcending to a “fully digital” experience. As check-in desks disappear, boarding passes enter digital wallets and hotel key cards become QR codes, travel providers are attempting to curate a more seamless experience. Some airlines are now even providing an automated plane boarding process, rather than the mad rush that it usually is; with long queues winding around departure gates, customers can receive their number in the queue by scanning a QR code or getting a notification on their mobile app and board the plane accordingly. This creates a more relaxed and frictionless process for customers, reduces the need for increased ground staff and allows travel providers to scale up quickly during busy periods, boosting operational efficiency.

This is all happening against the backdrop of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution, with it becoming increasingly intertwined within the travel and hospitality industry. Many travel providers are now integrating AI into their apps to produce a virtual travel-planning experience. These AI-powered assistants can help prospective travelers book their getaway, providing personalized recommendations and exclusive discounts. They can then use the data they collect to personalize each customer’s in-app experience further, giving tailored recommendations based on their search history or prompting them to book their hotel when rooms run low. This will ultimately boost sales while maintaining a seamless end-to-end travel experience.

Social media fueling travel trends and concerns

One-click digital channels are rapidly gaining traction. Instant messaging and click-to-call have gained a foothold among millennials and Gen Z’ers, who are looking for easy, frictionless ways to reach hospitality providers. Not only are these generations using social media channels for travel inspiration, but with the rising popularity of TikTok and Instagram, these younger, digitally savvy travelers aren’t thinking twice about recording a video and posting it online, tagging the airline when they have an issue with flight delays, or complaining about the service they have received at their hotel.

But despite the proliferation of digital communication channels and automated processes, it’s essential not to forget that a good old-fashioned, person-to-person connection is still what many travelers want. So regardless of the channel where the traveler seeks help, it must facilitate human connection and empathy.

Can extensive self-service overreach?

Although there is no doubt a preference for self-service when it comes to travel, especially with the admin tasks and airport experience, we cannot assume that bots, apps and automation will completely take over travel. Travelers ultimately want to feel connected. How does self-service suit when something goes wrong, like a canceled flight or mix-up with bookings? Customers need options in these situations.

Customers seek flexibility and diversity when interacting with their travel provider – whether it be self-service, online chat or the classic phone call. Technological tools can be used to sift through customer requests quickly and point them in the most suitable direction, augmenting workers’ productivity and meeting customer demands in the most streamlined way. Building out and enhancing support capabilities across emerging digital channels can help airlines differentiate themselves, provide positive experiences and help customer retention. And most importantly, it will give travelers the feel-good factor they seek.

Easier travels for all

Customers demonstrate a particular trust when handing over the itinerary management to travel providers, for hotel booking, car rentals and boarding flights. Businesses must prioritize digital transformation, as consumers have already made that permanent switch from face-to-face travel agents to online travel agencies. To retain the human connection, it is still equally essential for a mixture of human interaction – “high touch” and “high-tech” service to be utilized efficiently to curate the perfect customer service. The growing usage of innovative technologies is promising and opens the doors for smoother travel and operations for travel providers and customers.

The world of automation and AI will naturally integrate and mature over time, and customer preference for it will grow organically. For now, to foster connectivity, travel providers need to be agile and have the ability to facilitate all of these interactions if they wish to provide simpler, safer and faster interactions with their customers and maintain steady growth. Because each interaction matters.

About the author …

Anish Kapoor is the senior executive vice president for travel operations at Teleperformance India.

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