Travel retailing in 2023 – a brief look into the future
So we took up a challenge laid down by OpenJaw Technologies to peer ahead into what the world of travel retailing could be like in the years to come.
The result was a 45-minute speech at the Ireland-based company’s annual conference for customers in Dublin last week.
The slides for the presentation (t-Retailing 2023 – A Future You Will Create?) are included below, but here is a brief summary:
We can presume that as ancillary products because increasingly important to travel suppliers and intermediaries, then how those products are sold will become more like other retailers on the web.
Over time, consumers will be faced more than ever with a range of services and functionality on travel websites and other devices which help push such as products.
This will be a natural evolution and more than likely will help rather than hinder the travel shopping, buying and sharing ecosystem.
Will certain demographics or age groups accept this evolution more than others? Probably not – the days of one generation being more tech-savvy than other are over – the only wrinkle in the argument is that younger consumers are already interacting with brands in a different way to, say, Baby Boomers or kids of the 70s and 80s.
Think touch interfaces, rather than keyboard or point-or-click.
There are two distinct process that will affect the development and evolution of travel retailing:
- in the B2C world it is around improving the ability by the user to manage their own trips and inventory, being served with better and more relevant products, improved up-selling tools and massively enhanced online user experience.
- in the B2B world the focus is on utilising Big Data techniques to learn more about customers, mining the social graph, being more flexible with partnerships with other entities around the industry (sharing knowledge and data are key) and pushing consumers into valuable and worthwhile loyalty schemes.
Here are some examples of how all this might evolve in the years to come:
- Google, Facebook and Apple do not think like existing travel brands (why should they?) and each have varying degrees of influence in the travel shopping journey. Expect Google to continue its drive to organise the world’s TRAVEL information, with its own commercial twist, of course; Facebook’s user data is gold dust to marketers, so brands will come up with better and more engaging ways to get it; and Apple may move essentially from being a device manufacturer to a service provider in its own right (iTravel).
- Touch interfaces will become the norm for most consumers, so creating services that account for and enhance that interaction will be crucial.
- The social graph is perhaps one of the most powerful forces in travel shopping, but has still yet to be fully understood and exploited by travel brands. The example by TripAdvisor with its Trip Friends tool (serving information from a user’s network rather than the great unwashed of the web) is the still probably the best around, despite now being almost three years old.
- NFC (Near Field Communication) will evolve to the extent that consumer devices will be the PRIMARY method by which they interact with services en-route or in-destination – boarding passes and automated check-ins, paying for products, etc.
- Geo-fencing (using GPS technology) opens up a vast array of methods to reach the consumer to not only assist them as a service provider but also as a retailer – think up-selling of services as a customer gets closer en-route to an airport.
- Device-wielding consumers will expect any facility they use in the travel industry (airport, hotel, etc) to meet their exact needs – “smart” locations will be doing a lot more than just providing free wifi, retail units will be digitised and in tune with a passenger’s PNR and requirements, giving better opportunities for efficient and valuable up-selling.
- Intelligent recommendation engines will arrive to replace the often haphazard Amazon-style efforts currently being used online. The better ones will utilise the social graph (wisdom of friends, not the crowd) AND previous users to fine-tune the products that are likely to resonate with potential customers.
- APIs are everywhere, but the often proprietorial nature of many of the travel industry product and data feeds ultimately restricts what can be created with them. The so-called open web will drive a more transparent model around APIs so that collaboration and experimentation is easier and more commonplace.
- Whether it is an IATA NDC-led effort or the existing model continuing to develop, personalised offers within distribution of air tickets and other travel products will ensure that the retail experience (up-selling, value, relevancy) becomes an intrinsic way in which way products are sold forever.
- The emerging economies (namely Brazil, Russia, India and China) will probably take the technical lead and see the biggest early adoption of many of the retailing services being proposed in the sector. Indeed, consumers in many of these and other less developed countries already see mobile as their primary device – some communities in Africa are even bypassing the desktop computer entirely.
- Augmented reality might be derided in some quarters (not least because significant use of such services has yet to materialise in travel), but for many this is purely a timing issue. As devices continue to become the main interface between customer and brand/service, and the quality of the technology improves, AR will eventually be the default system by which many retail services are thrust in front of consumers.
- If a travel brand company doesn’t have at least one person devoted to poring over analytics and customer data, then many of the retailing principles will either never be possible or incredibly difficult to implement effectively.
- And, finally, forget items such as smartphones and tablets for a moment – wearable technologies (currently being pushed heavily by Google with its Glass project) WILL move beyond being fancy toys to become what many consumers have as their primary, personal device, especially when on the road.
NB: Disclosure - author was a guest of OpenJaw Technologies, which supplied travel/accommodation during the event.
Kevin May is editor and a co-founder of Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution for nearly four years and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has also worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology and a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism.