Future of Travel recap: Once man meets machine, travel innovation will fly

The travel sector is set to become a hotbed for innovation in marketing and experiential technology over the next few years. That was the clear message that came from our Future of Travel conference, held on March 21st in partnership with Travel Weekly. Watch the highlights below, or read on to learn more.

                           

 

We were delighted to be joined by a selection of the industry’s leading voices including Airbnb, Choice Hotels, MSC Cruises and Hotel Tonight, who lifted the lid on how they’re adapting to meet the fourth industrial revolution head on.

With academics estimating that up to 15 million UK jobs are at risk of automation, few sectors will be immune from digital transformation. Yet while we had themed this event and our accompanying research around ‘Man vs Machine’, the overriding impression was that the travel industry is set to benefit tremendously by blending the technology of tomorrow with the personal, human touch associated with high street travel agents of old. ‘Man Meets Machine’ may have been more appropriate.

The data economy has fuelled advances in technology in recent years, and travel is in a wonderful position to benefit. With every wishful search, customers reveal heaps of information about where they’d like to go, what they’d like to do, when they’d like to visit and who they’ll be bringing with them. As our delegates heard, this data already plays a vital role in the personalised services operators are providing to travellers. As we continue to collect even greater volumes of data, it will become absolutely integral to every customer journey through new applications such as artificial intelligence, voice recognition, and wearable tech.

The brands that triumph in this new world will be those that use technology to enhance and personalise the experience while becoming more human in the foreground, using the personal touch as a point of differentiation.  

What does this mean in practice? One of my favourite examples (which can be found in our Future of Travel research) comes from Jamie Cole, Mandarin Oriental’s Vice President of Digital & eCommerce. While staying at the Group’s Shanghai location, Jamie had visited the supermarket to buy a punnet of cherries. Two weeks later in the company’s Barcelona hotel, Jamie arrived to find a bowl of cherries awaiting him in his room. This thoughtful gesture was made possible by Mandarin Oriental’s global guest database, with a computer flagging Jamie’s preference when he booked. But it would have been the housekeeper in Shanghai who originally noticed and passed the information on.  This is what technology is supposed to do - take the best of what makes us human (thoughtfulness in this case) and enables these gestures to be replicated at scale.

This applies to the entire customer journey, from the initial ‘inspiration phase’ as consumers research the kind of trip they want, to the booking process, through to the travel and destination itself and indeed even post-trip. Whether it’s utilising machine learning to assess whether a guest would be better served with a prompt to contact a call centre rather than book online, or automatically scheduling an Uber home from the airport, technology should be supercharging the ideas of people.

 

Our guest speaker from Airbnb, Anne-Sophie Frenove, put it best. Reports about job losses to automation rarely mention the jobs this same technology will create. Innovation that does handle the work traditionally done by humans should only empower us to spend more time on the human elements that make travel experiences truly memorable. We already know a lot about who our customers are and what will excite them – wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had more capacity to focus on not just meeting, but exceeding, their expectations?

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Watch all the action and presentations from the day, grab your copy of the research and sign up for our future events here.