The Connected Traveler

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 EyeforTravel Connected Traveller Conference. Based on the spelling of the word “traveller” which my American version of MS Word continuously wants to autocorrect, you can correctly assume the conference was hosted in London. During the conference, one phrase from my favorite 80s movie kept running through my head: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Today’s traveler, no matter where she goes – whether she is a passenger on an aircraft, train, or car-share or staying as a guest in a hotel – is always connected: before, during and after her journey or stay.  Travel companies realize that customers are expecting to have almost instant access to information about their flight; getting accurate information to the customer promptly, and to the right device – and without overloading the customer – is critical.  The same is true of hospitality companies.  At the event, a number of the speakers discussed how their companies are supporting these needs today, and how their future business and technology strategies will continue to support changing customer requirements.  I’m interested in your perspective on the Connected Traveler (one “l”, thank you), whether you think that these trends are accurate and, in particular, if the strategies being proposed will lead to success for travel and hospitality companies.

Most of the speakers discussed what travel or hospitality customers need in order to be truly connected. Dara Brady, Head of Digital Experience, Ryanair, separated these essentials into three airline-related categories:

  • Information – knowledge about flights and greater access to destination-related information
  • Communication – real-time updates on actual and potential disruptions
  • Control – ability to book flights, hotels, car rentals, transfers, etc.

Julien Nicolas, COO Europe, Voyages-sncf.com, described how SNCF perceives the customer journey, from discovery to exploration, purchase, pre-journey, journey, and commitment.  Throughout a customer journey, in which customers can be at multiple stages across different journeys, travel companies must have an omni-channel strategy where the experience is consistent no matter what channel the consumer is accessing. This will ultimately lead to a seamless experience for the customer.  And, that seamless experience should extend beyond the traditional flight/train to hotel experience.  A number of speakers emphasized the changing world that exists outside, or even instead, of this traditional experience.  From ride-sharing to customized private car to excursions to dining, the mobile/connected traveler will often participate in his own travel planning by identifying and executing these activities.

Extrapolating from the fact that all aspects of the customer journey can now be delivered to the customer directly, one might wonder if there is room for the travel agency and business travel services providers.  I think there were different opinions on that question at the conference.  Certainly, brick and mortar and even online travel agencies are seeing travel and hospitality suppliers jump into the space previously wholly-owned by these agencies and intermediaries.  In order to avoid obsolescence, the value provided by these intermediaries must be distinct and targeted to customers that prize these services.

We know that aggregation of services has been one way to serve customers: to be the consolidator across all elements of the journey, or to provide all options, allowing customers the freedom of choice not available when the supplier is the provider.  I was particularly interested in the effort of these companies to integrate on and off-line services.  For example, consider customers who research vacations through a website, but then want or need more personalized attention, ultimately deciding to visit a brick-and-mortar location.  The key to keeping these customers is to make this transition from online to offline a seamless experience; that is, the human travel agent must know who the customer is when he walks in the door and that includes what he has been researching most recently, but also includes information about where he has traveled before and what additional services he might be considering but not yet researched.  It’s remarkable to me that these travel agencies are thinking about this at the same time that Amazon has decided to open its first physical location.  Clearly, the need for human interaction, the desire to touch and feel, whether it be a book or a travel brochure, is propelling some customers to move away from the online environment to something more tangible.  “Everything old is new again,” as they say.

A different, but related, topic of discussion at the conference centered on the technology aspects of delivering these connected services.  I heard from Gabriella Gullbrandson, Business Development, SJ AB, about creating a business infrastructure that would better enable incubation and rapid prototyping of new technology ideas.  The world – and customer expectations in terms of technology – is changing rapidly.  Servicing those needs, much of which involves the need for application development, is not always quick enough when established IT organizations get involved.  Thus, creating a virtual team that can be a nexus for collecting ideas, vetting business case justifications and producing prototypes quickly is essential.  My own experience with analytics in the travel and hospitality space suggests that some form of this rapid prototyping, more than just Agile development, is so important.  Implementing analytics, like developing customer-facing applications (whether involving analytics or not), requires a process that can generate value quickly.  And it is even better when it can generate, within a short to medium timeframe, its own ROI.

In the two-day conference, the participants touched on many aspects of the connected travel experience.  Given that I arrived in London from the United States the day before, nothing hit closer to home than making sure that the connected customer travel experience is pleasant.  Pernilla Edelsvard, Head of Digital, SAS (Scandinavian Airlines, not my company) is taking that a few steps further: “Enchanting the Customer.”  While connecting with the customer, this experience has to be more than just efficient, it should be pleasing to the customer.  The ultimate purpose for companies connecting with travelers (and guests) should be to encourage loyalty and increase revenues – we are all still businesses, after all – so that customers continue to utilize and pay for our services.  She described many of the SAS initiatives to bring together customer connection with the digital world in a way that customers would continue to value before, during and after the journey.  It seems fitting to end this discussion here and get your perspectives.  What new services and technology, especially if they involve analytics, are you bringing to the forefront of your customer interactions?  How are they working?  What have you learned from these initiatives?  Clearly, “wherever you go, there you are” is a humorous and somewhat existential motto, but “wherever you go, you are ‘enchanted’” will bring much more value and revenue to your company’s bottom line.  Let’s stick with that!

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About Author

Lee Ann Dietz

Sr Industry Consultant

Lee Ann Dietz is an analytics evangelist for transportation and smart cities at SAS. She is currently a Principal Industry Consultant in the Global Government Industry Practice at SAS, and has almost 25 years supporting customers with analytical solutions. Prior to joining SAS in 2012, Lee Ann held various positions with Railinc, DZone, Inc., and SAS. Lee Ann began her career with American Airlines and SABRE, after earning her MBA from the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia and BA (Economics) degrees from Stanford University.

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