Practically no industry was hit harder in 2020 than travel and hospitality. Yet, while the global pandemic shut schools for a time, and curtailed construction work for many months, each sector was able to adapt. Lessons moved online. Construction sites adopted new socially distanced ways of working. Life and productivity carried on with adjustments.

By contrast, Covid-19 caused people to stay at home – and with it, an industry based on going places ground to a halt. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that at the height of the pandemic, as many as a million jobs were lost in the industry each day worldwide, and that the first ten months of the pandemic accounted for some $935bn (around £672bn) lost revenue across the globe.

Like in other industries, these unforeseen events necessitated a move to digital ways of doing things. Luckily, this is one area where the travel and hospitality sector was ahead of the curve. A recent Digital Trends report from Adobe focusing on travel and hospitality indicates nearly half (46%) of companies in the sector already generate over half their revenue from digital commerce.

Nonetheless, that still leaves a lot of room for growth – and with it, many challenges to overcome.

The new technology and travel revolution is just getting started

Possibly the most crucial thing for travel and hospitality businesses to get right is how they use technology to move towards a customer experience (CX) centred approach. This essentially means meeting the customer where they are on their digital platform of choice, allowing them to interact with and buy from you however they want, and becoming a trusted source to help them research their options and make their decisions.

According to leading digital marketing platform Hubspot, CX “promotes loyalty, helps you retain customers, and encourages brand advocacy.” However, there is huge scope for improvement industry-wide, with only 17% of surveyed travel companies in Adobe’s report saying their business strategy and technology around CX were both at the ‘very advanced’ stage that would indicate true digital transformation.

One example of CX success done right in this arena is Virgin Holidays, who centralised the data in their back-end systems, giving them a deep and rich understanding of their customer journeys. They were then able to create personalised campaigns across multiple channels, which saw them reach 90% engagement across comms, and increase website visits from their pre-departure emails by over 800%!

Virgin’s success story is actually from 2017, which makes it a great example of how technology has already transformed the travel industry. However, companies looking to emulate their success will encounter challenges around:

Falling and redirecting budgets

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused over a third of travel and hospitality companies to slash their overall marketing budgets, and redirect much of the remaining budgets towards marketing technology to meet the demand for customer-centric experiences.

Gaining accurate customer data and insights

Many old-world travel and hospitality organisations have businesses that operate on a siloed model. A significant investment in marketing technology should bring together data from these disparate sources and departments.

Personalisation

The upshot of these interconnected systems and centralised data will allow marketers to make more informed decisions – targeting messaging and promotions much more accurately, and delivering communications to customers via the channels where they’ll see the most benefit.

Digital transformation is great for consumers

With a dramatic surge in holiday bookings expected as the global pandemic recedes, the travel and hospitality businesses that do CX best are likely to be the ones customers grow to trust, and keep returning to.

However, one innovation they’ll want to retain from the COVID era will be touchless experiences, which are a prime example of how digital technologies are transforming the hospitality industry.

Adobe’s report indicates that only a third of businesses use technology to offer services like keyless check-in, mobile-powered housekeeping management and app-ordered room service. These functions may have proven incredibly popular in the short stints of hotel availability between domestic lockdowns. Still, the sheer convenience they offer is something of a no-brainer when it comes to delivering the seamless, customer-first service model of the future. As a result, we expect to see implementation cases soar in the years ahead.

Another priority for travel and hospitality businesses should be AI-powered chatbots. They have the power to dramatically simplify the booking process for customers, while taking the load off customer service teams at the busiest times of the year. With more people now able to work remotely from anywhere, and Covid-19 ushering in customer expectation for more flexible booking and cancellation policies, the need for a middle ground between customers being kept on hold and talking to a live company representative should not be underestimated.

Is your travel and hospitality business ready to go digital?

As the world transitions from extended lockdowns to something approaching normality, travel and hospitality businesses have a tremendous opportunity to use technology to find, reach, and offer incredible experiences, to enormous numbers of ready and willing customers.

How technology has changed the way you travel can’t be argued against. The real question is – how much is your business willing to invest to stay competitive?

At DCSL GuideSmiths, we’re well placed to help your travel and hospitality business transition from legacy systems that could be holding you back, and adopt a digital future that can offer marketing ability and services for you and your (potential) customers.

To see how, visit our digital transformation for enterprises page or get in touch to discuss to see how we can help your travel-based business go places.