Technology and travel trends are driven by the consumer, the traveler who seeks reliability and transparency. Before and after the pandemic alike, we see greater emphasis on simplifying the booking process by adding tours and transfers and other attractions so that the client can design their own itinerary.
With the onslaught of the pandemic almost exactly 2 years ago some of the technological developments taking place in the travel & hospitality sectors waiting to be rolled out on market got deferred or were kept on hold for the markets to reopen. These innovations were meant to meet two purposes:
1. Give more flexibility and convenience to the travellers designing their tour itineraries, and
2. Allow the tour package offering companies to reduce their operational cost by making the whole process of lead generation to enquiry validation to quotation to booking easier and error-free.
Not that these solutions were not available and used by the travel companies, the efforts were on to make these solutions accessible to smaller agencies and OTAs.
Most of these technological innovations revolve around integrating the API (application programming interface) customizing the data to suit an agency’s design, and integrating the data with ERP and CRM to allow a seamless operation, data analytics, and MIS. On the consumer interface side, the challenges lie more in providing the flexibility to organize and book the tour the way they want to, and at the right cost, with all voucher, acknowledgement, confirmation, and local operator contact details arriving digitally through E-mail and SMS / WhatsApp, and other such communication programs on mobile.
When the OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) started getting aggressive on market in the last 5-7 years, the consumers certainly benefited to a large extent in getting cheaper hotels and sometimes very attractive deals on airfares. This of course adversely affected the conventional travel agencies who used to have many individual and corporate clients booking through them. With OTAs, the power shifted to the hands of the consumers.
On the holiday and vacation packages, the conventional travel agencies still retained their usefulness as the consumers trusted them to provide reliable services at the destination. But these agencies had a tough time getting attractive hotel deals as the OTAs started negotiating better contracts with the hotel chains. For OTAs, it was not difficult to offer larger room nights to the hotels as they had access to a wider technology-friendly and mobile-savvy customer base. The traditional brick and mortar travel agencies started ways to upgrade their operations and widen their service offerings by selling both domestic and international travel packages, offering visa assistance, foreign currencies (Forex), and so on. But still getting larger volumes of clients to compete with the OTAs was difficult.
The technology solutions that are getting incorporated in the industry should facilitate transparency to gain consumers’ trust. There have been some shifts being observed on both ends of the market. Where the consumers nowadays try to book on their own instead of using an agency, the hotels are also trying to have their own room booking portal to handle customer reservations which saves them huge commissions to the travel agencies including OTAs.
Hotels have suffered a great deal during the pandemic and they would seemingly be keen to have the client bookings done directly on their website instead of getting routed through an agency. This however doesn’t mean the agencies can’t enter into a contract with the hotels, as most clients seeking single-window solutions would anyway book through their loyal agencies.
There are some OTAs like Trivago who works as a marketplace and on an aggregator model so that the client can compare the rates offered by several OTAs and book the most competitive one.
On the marketing front, we would thus see OTAs working to provide the best deals and most flexibility in booking hotels, flights, and tours & transfers. The DMCs (destination management companies) and B2B agencies shall try to have the best contracts with their foreign partner agencies and also with the hotel chains so that they could offer the most competitive and well-designed tour packages to their B2C agency clients. Depending on the size of the DMCs, B2B and B2C agencies they would all have to be more agile and efficient because the competition would eat away the profit margins they enjoyed until a few years ago.
For any agency, what matters most today is creating its niche. The demand has grown large and wide and the traveller today demands customised, niche and exclusive tour offerings, from wellness vacations to golf vacations to adventure packages ranging from bike tours to rock climbing, and so on. Are the agencies today geared up to meet the requirements of the travellers?
The pandemic has opened up a new category of vacation seekers who need budget accommodation with good Wifi and a mobile network to enable them to work from remote. From staycation, we now witness workcation as the new trend. Are the budget hotels and resorts meeting the client’s expectations on hygiene and sanitation in their properties?
Long stay clients who could be families or remote working professionals, seek and prefer independent and casual accommodations in fully equipped apartments and private villas, instead of a more formal and commercial ambience of hotels and resorts. The apartments and villas are also being sold online but still, there is enough scope to innovate in these accommodation classes.
The marketing platforms most commonly deployed by the hotels and resorts, travel agencies, and villa owners are the social media and their websites. But these are not enough as almost everyone is using the same methods and platforms to market themselves. The trick today lies in creating your own audience, whether you own a resort or villa, or a travel agency offering a custom-designed tour package or an OTA.
Creating your audience is a long process of first identifying your niche and then diligently working as a cohesive team to deliver the message consistently to your target audience through well-conceived stories and blog content. YouTube is a fabulous platform to tell your stories to your audience as nothing is more effective than the visual presentation that brings the experience closer to reality.
Podcasts with travel influencer or with the loyal customer goes a long way in building awareness and delivering new ideas and experiences.
The field of travel is ever-evolving. People are either chasing their dream or creating one with their families and friends. Be it leisure travel or MICE, the innovations will keep coming and marketing has to keep pace with these changing consumer trends.
As of today, content is going to rule one the one side to attract more new first time travellers and more niche travellers seeking to explore themselves through yoga & meditation or through adventure activities, and on the other side, the service providers becoming more tech-savvy and be more like expert consultants carving more unique tour offerings to delight their loyal customers and create new ones.
While the operators and hotel owners have lost a lot in the last two years, the future is bright for everyone as people are going to travel even more, and the technology and industrial revolution are going to create more entrepreneurs and wealth creators thereby lifting the per capita income across the countries of the world which would throw more disposable incomes for people to explore destinations of their choice far and wide, offbeat or the popular ones.