For most travelers and holidaymakers today, the smartphone is the most crucial item to take away with them.
Packed in a pocket or handbag, it has become as indispensable as a passport. In fact, some could argue the smartphone is now more important than a passport, with its touchscreen opening up a world of travel possibilities and in many cases holding those all-important travel tickets.
Research earlier this year found mobile has now overtaken the desktop when it comes to UK holiday bookings. The survey said 48% of trips were booked on smartphones and 19% on tablets, a combined total that dwarfs the third of bookings made via a traditional computer. However, the smartphone is certainly now capable of far more than just planning and paying. This means holiday companies need to take advantage of all emerging technologies and infrastructure requirements to ensure their customers – new and old – are best served.
Building a package holiday that places the smartphone at the heart of everything a traveler needs and does should be paramount, while providing a robust infrastructure to allow this to be smooth and painless. The majority of airlines now allow for check-in to be done via an app, but Air New Zealand has just taken this one step further, allowing passengers to scan their passport into the application to use for check-in. It will also remind them when the passport is due to expire.
The airline is even looking further to the future by trialing augmented reality technology that can show cabin crew information about each passenger. That would be a huge leap from today’s most-common smartphone travel uses – a travel wallet for tickets, a way to share photos from the pool or beach on social media and working out where to go on a map. Indeed, we know social media is one area where holiday companies can instantly drive desire, but this only works if they are as pro-active as possible with their social customer service to avoid such channels only being filled with complaints.
Within the Travel and Tourism industry, apps have truly changed the game. Their use has become key to revenue growth. Even if customers aren’t using apps to book, they will be viewing a company’s main website via mobile meaning it must be responsive to such demands with an app-like experience and performance until a fully-fledged app is created. A key change this summer 2017 for the industry was the recent move by the EU to scrap roaming charges. It meant UK holidaymakers could use bundled data allowances across Europe as if they were surfing at home, putting an end to incurring extra unforeseen charges
This would naturally mean a surge in use of 3G and 4G internet connectivity on holiday, giving holidaymakers far more freedom to use their smartphones without being tied to a fixed wireless connection in their hotel, for example.
Holiday companies should take advantage of this. They could begin to experiment with the likes of beacon technology, which targets services and offers to a user based on their geographical location. In time, this may replace the traditional human 'holiday rep' role, offering holidaymakers everything from money-off vouchers when they pass a local bar or providing real-time tips, advice and warnings by direct download based on location.
Such unfettered smartphone usage will, however, bring security concerns. The multitude of different smartphone handsets means apps and mobile-friendly websites must be updated on a regular basis with patches and upgrades to ensure optimum performance and safety. Many traditional and legacy T&T operators will require digital business transformation to fully embrace new technology if they are to compete with digital-first entrants, such as Airbnb, challenging their incumbency.
At CenturyLink, we work with a number of T&T organisations globally to deliver such strategies. Our hybrid IT-managed services take full care of the back-end from infrastructure to data analytics and app development. We utilise a tried and tested 'best execution venue' consultative approach to ensure that applications and workloads are delivered from the most efficient platform in terms of performance and cost. We can then manage the orchestration and lifecycle management of these platforms and enable our T&T customers to focus on business initiative to drive additional revenue.
Digital transformation means there are now so many possibilities open to T&T businesses to capture consumer demand via a smartphone. Research last year said travel-based mobile apps were the seventh most-downloaded category.
But what does that mean for traditional bricks and mortar travel agencies? At the end of 2016, the Financial Times reported how these high-street stores were under threat, with many being closed to save cash.
At CenturyLink, we don't think that must be the case if digital transformation is cleverly implemented. With the right front and back-end technology in place, stores can survive by becoming places of user experience rather than be purely sales-driven. They can bring to life holiday destinations and activities through virtual reality, video and sound and then wirelessly transfer all the holiday sales information to a smartphone ready for planning and paying.
With human experts on hand to augment that experience, T&T companies could still succeed in selling holiday desire in a real-life setting before encouraging the smartphone traveler to handle their own booking there and then. This would, at least, get them off to a flying start and ensure they have started a journey towards whatever their final digital transformation destination proves to be.