Andy Tippingis Sales Director for online sector at Geo Networks. Andy joined Geo in September 2011. He leads the development of propositions for this high-transaction, web-based sector, covering Gaming, Gambling and Ticketing.
With over 30 years’ experience in the telecoms market, Andy brings a wealth of expertise to this evolving sector. His previous roles include Client Director at Cable & Wireless and a variety of senior posts at BT including Head of Operations for BT Wholesales Market Ventures, and Sales Manager for BT Wholesale.
Communications permeates all facets of travel, from booking online to ‘always-on’comparison sites, and to revamping travel stores with direct video-link to holiday resorts. The travel industry can reach its users via Twitter-based CRM,social media travel offersand frequent holiday news updates. Whentravelling, timely alerts could make all the difference and NFC facilities will help guiding through terminal buildings and embarkation platforms. Arriving there, concierge services, like finding hotels and restaurants, are already a great favourite. Back at home, uploading and sharing holiday snaps rounds up the communication experience, while agencies gain market intelligence through mobile opinion polls.
Technology is a fundamental part of life, and travelling for both business and pleasure can be augmented through technical innovation. Wise travel firms are embracing technology, its challenges and its rewards, to deliver services to customers to enhance their journeys – whether before, during or after the experience.
The travel industry is one sector in which we are seeing technology permeate every step of every process. In this article, we’ll address how technology is increasingly catering for the high expectations of the traveller – from the Twitter-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) approach to global tap-and-pay, and how the right infrastructure can support this evolving world.
With online travellers each owning 2.7 web-enabled devices, according to a report by PhoCus Wright, and Google’s whitepaper claiming that the number of travellers who would use their mobile device to research their trip was expected to climb to 51 per cent this year, our need for information is evident. Whether we’re accessing comparison sites to compare deals, aggregator sites to compile the perfect suite of add-ons, user-generated content sites for the real scoop or just plain old tourism sites, we are doing this on-the-go.
Meta-search companies are a critical consideration for today’s travellers. We are using them to find choice and independent price comparisons to save time. We are doing it in droves. Just a few days ago, Kayak announced that it processed over 100 million user requests for travel information in January.
Imperative to travel companies and, in particular, comparison sites, is the ability to trawl through millions of offers to deliver accurate and fast results to the end user. That’s why specialist software organisations such as ParStream are developing programmes to deliver complex search and algorithm functionality, to make sense of the ‘big data’ inherent to the industry.
Underpinning the need for the safe, reliable and low-latency flow of data is of course the infrastructure, and we are witnessing a rise in enquiries related to the transit of big data. Sharing fibre networks results in delays, as multiple sets of transmission equipment cause data lag. Online travel firms need to select their supplier with care. Only the newest, legacy-free infrastructure will cater for today’s low-latency, high transaction intensity.
Feet vs fingers
It’s interesting to see the industry dynamics change. Travel agents, for example, are becoming polarised. Whilst many are being forced off the high street, the likes of Virgin, Kuoni, STA, Flight Centre are still investing heavily in local stores. Why is it working for them? Perhaps they are the most effective at linking their online and offline proposition, marketing and brand building.
What could entice consumers back in-store? An openness and willingness to cater for people’s changing requirements is a good start. Free Wi-Fi in-store, and access to comparison and review sites for customers may be one option. The integration of QR (Quick Response)codes to take viewers directly to videos of the resort, for example, could be another way of delivering a virtual tour and booking facility. Live Skype access to resorts, which enables interaction with representatives on-site could provide the impetus to buy there and then.
As travellers forgo routine destinations in favour of the thrill of more remote terrains, companies such as Trailfinders and Expedia will need to source accurate and timely data from all corners of the globe. Having secure and reliable links to information from wholesalers and ensuring up to date prices and availability will support their continued success in the market.
As well as enhanced software capability to deal with the millions of transactions, online travel companies need to be available to consumers at all times. Organisations that provide last-minute deals to consumers, such as flights or rooms, have to deal with constantly changing information, whilst retaining good margins.
Having a secure and reliable infrastructure can ensure that any changes in spot prices or a sudden influx of released services can be marketed quickly, effectively and profitably. Exceptional peaks, whether planned or unplanned, should feature in all online business continuity plans, but it is surprising to see that firms are not always as focused on future requirements. In an age where loyalty is lost at the click of a button, it is critical to keeping consumers that your site is secure and always-on, as well as 100 per cent accessible by smart devices.
A private, dedicated network is one way to ensure that your network never buckles under the weight of visitor traffic. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and other cyber-based attacks are a permanent concern, not just with the enormous threat of losing customers’ personal and financial information, but also related to the business continuity. Malicious attacks take enormous amounts of bandwidth, and this should encourage businesses to consider whether their bandwidth is currently sufficient to enable the smooth, continuous day-to-day operations.
The social revolution
The volume of data being stored by TripAdvisor is growing at a phenomenal rate, and last year the company witnessed 13m downloads of mobile apps and 16m unique visitors via mobile sources per month. Access to this information by the masses is critical. All of this content has to be available by and from all different media types.
Welcoming, and even providing, online reviews and forums will encourage today’s new breed of consumer. The lines between social and business interactions are continuing to blur, with Hotels.com and Columbus Insurance just this month announcing an affiliate programme via Facebook. Their joint app, `Hotels WithMe’ is a hotel search engine that runs entirely through Facebook, and encourages group buying for rewards. Social commerce and peer-to-peer networks are gathering huge momentum, and the whole sector – from ticketing firms to specialist resorts – need to factor this channel into their business plans. Effective connectivity, whether to data centre hubs or between individual sites, will ensure the swift transit of data between collaborative parties.
Once travel has been booked, today’s users are switching from online comparisons and purchase to real-time updates. From the simplest of weather apps, currency monitoring or travel updates, we continue to scrutinise every aspect.
Travel firms that recognise consumers’ preferences for regular updates have the ability to interact with them. Social media is at the forefront of this interaction, with companies regularly posting updates, pictures and reviews, encouraging two-way dialogue and engaging their customers.
The explosion of apps (for either Android or iPhones) is paramount to attracting and retaining new customers. There are currently over half a million apps available and around 700 created every day, illustrating both the opportunity for interaction and the profound need that consumers have to engage, whether for real information or for fun.
And we’re off
The old rules are out of the window, as the traveller takes all of their suppliers with them on their journey. Any event along the way is an opportunity for the company to interact with the consumer, as well as an opportunity for the consumer to present to a global audience.
The industry has to recognise this platform, and use it to manage any situation. By proactively adopting Twitter to inform customers of suspected train delays, a train operator has publicly taken control of an issue prior to the influx of tweets from disgruntled passengers. This early-warning could inform many customers due to travel, enabling them to change their plans. This allows train operators to publicly co-operate by allowing ticket-holders onto different lines, diffusing the crisis and instilling faith in the operator. Train operators are also investing in gigabit Ethernet networks on board, for both internal requirements such as recording and controlling systems, and passenger-facing initiatives. These include multimedia passenger information, entertainment and internet access, as well as travel-related updates such as arrival times and connection points, all of which will foster passenger loyalty.
Airports and major train stations are becoming hubs of activity as new technology enables consumers to progress more easily through steps like boarding and purchasing, with near field communication (NFC) dominating many of the headlines. 80 per cent of the world’s top 50 airlines, according to SITA (South African State Information Technology Agency (Pty) Ltd), will be deploying NFC by 2014. Many airports and major transport hubs are currently providing mobile augmented reality to support the smooth transition. All of this points to the need to have controlled, secure and dedicated network bandwidth. Without it, organisations will be exposed to possible outages.
Once the destination has been reached, Tripadvisor suggests in its 2012 Travel Trends, that 47 per cent of travellers expect to use their mobile for further travel needs. Ahead of this curve is the partnership of HotelTonight and inflight connectivity specialist Gogo in the US. Domestic passengers can download, free of charge via smart devices, last minute hotel deals during the flight, appealing to a market that may have stayed with friends or simply made the long journey from the airport home. This could easily be replicated to offer public or private transportation, restaurants, or other concierge-type services. The mobile operators are providing more and more data services and with the coming of 4G within the next few years will need capacity to handle the increased demand. Dedicated fibre services with the flexibility to add bandwidth within days rather than months to support growth will promote customer retention.
Home sweet home…
Once home, the consumer may have posted pictures, blogs, videos and reviews of their personal journey, or will be relaxing following a business trip. Successful travel firms will continue to engage with their customers beyond just a satisfaction poll. Those organisations that can process and make sense of the vast amounts of behavioural data that they have on their customers will surely be in a better position to be at the front of their mind for the next trip.