4 years ago
 

A deep dive into social media and travel – past, present and future

NB: This is a viewpoint from Manu Agrawal, a senior business analyst at Interglobe Technologies.

Shopping on social media conjures up magnificent images of the retail experience, right?

There are numerous websites which allow consumers to leverage their own network instead of salespeople to suggest the next best tablet or smartphone, and to decide which pair of shoes would look better with the dress bought last week.

There are options to read and solicit feedback, save and vote on products, and finally buy some, once you are completely satisfied with what is on offer.

While we are certainly moving towards a completely integrated, social media-enabled retail model, most of the action has been reserved for products: services, however, are yet to make much progress.

Most of the service-led initiatives are restricted to reviews and feedback, which are great for CRM but not-so-good for providing impetus to direct sales, since they fail to capitalize on the complete potential of social networks.

The travel and hospitality sector is one such service, which has the capability to offer an immersive social experience to travelers based on one attribute unique to it: travel is a social experience which is seldom undertaken alone, and the quality of the experience is also partly dependent on the company of fellow, like minded travelers.

Thus, being a group activity, it automatically qualifies as a good candidate for end-to-end social media integration.

Traveler pain points – an “as-is” perspective

How do we actually book travel today?

Consider a traveler planning her next vacation, and the way she goes about it.

The first stop is choosing a destination to go to. “Where to go” can be a daunting question as well, involving going through review sites like Lonely Planet, gathering opinions from friends and colleagues, or just looking up the destination on plain old Wikipedia.

Once a destination is finalized, consumers will move on to flight/rail/bus/car/hotel booking portals, looking for options that fit into their budget while providing the required levels of comfort and service. Multiple metasearches are required, as the traveler looks for the best deals.

A loyalty member would look at maximizing reward miles and possibly redeeming some of those, and these additional factors would further influence her search. Simultaneously, an itinerary would be planned as well. The final step would be processing the payments.

The above case showcases a highly simplistic scenario. Let us consider one where the traveler is going abroad, and Passport/Visa considerations, and travel advisories come into the picture.

Going another step forward, let us consider a group of friends travelling to a common destination, say on a college reunion. Everybody might be coming from different cities, have different budgets and travel preferences.

Apart from the various websites that need to be traversed, additional complexities arise in the form of a need to communicate fluently within the group (preferably real time) and ultimately facilitating a consensus.

Planning thus becomes a harrowing exercise, involving visits to some of the following websites in the process.

In order to search for the best available options, the traveler keeps hopping around. While destinations are usually researched on travel blogs and sites like lonely planet or tripadvisor, bookings and flight availability is checked on OTAs.

Similarly for hotels, cars and restaurants, the traveler might prefer to switch to specific availability websites (Hotels.com, OpenTable) or go directly to the service provider to check for lower tariffs.

At the same time, s/he would be engaged in discussions with fellow travelers or friends, thus using social channels or communication tools.

What is actually happening here?

The traveler is repeatedly getting disengaged – in the absence of an integrated shopping portal, no single brand is able to retain the prospect’s attention for the complete booking cycle, thus losing out on sales and the opportunity to build brand loyalty.

Bringing customers to the website is an arduous task in the first place, with lot of effort and money spent on search engine optimization and marketing activities. It is imperative that the customer treats the website as the final destination, and not as a check point to be passed through – thus enhancing the look-to-book ratio.

Another prominent issue is the fact that this makes the overall travel booking activity one with high cognitive overhead – to be able to book what you really want at prices that you can really afford, you need to be really tech-savvy.

Knowing where to find the most economical fares is not common knowledge, available only to the most discerning traveler . And imagine the horror of forgetting to book a connecting cab between the airport and the railway station, when your flight departs soon after your train arrives.

The concept of social travel

If we translate the traveler’s activities into business requirements, the following four phases will define the complete travel booking process:

A solution to bringing all these activities under one integrated platform is social media, and specifically Facebook. A typical travel booking process would then play out like the user story below:

Bridging the gaps: the “to-be” perspective

Ethan is planning to go to his college reunion with his friends, and is looking out for great deals to California, where his alma mater is located. He and his friends would be flying in from various destinations in the States and abroad. He has volunteered to plan the trip, enthusiastic as he was about the entire event.

In order to track the attendance of its alums and make appropriate arrangements, the institute alumni association had created a Facebook event for the reunion, and requested everybody to mark their attendance there. Ethan had selected the “I am attending” option.

Fortunately, Ethan glances at an advertisement on Facebook, which was promoting “Cheap flights to San Jose/San Francisco”. He clicks on the offer and is redirected to an application where he checks fares, and finds them to be reasonable enough.

He thus creates a travel plan called “Reunion” and invites all his friends to use the application (called Plan Your Trip or PYT). They can now see a common travel page with conference and one-to-one chat capabilities. Additionally, people can suggest flights or travel deals to the group which will then be visible to all.

Ethan asks everybody to fill in their requirements, which are stored by the application. The itineraries are pretty complex – Liam and Aubrey wish to arrive a day earlier than everybody else (and from different cities), but plan to leave together back to Aubrey’s place.

Dylan would be attending a business meeting in a city close by after the reunion and would thus wish to book a one way flight to San Jose only, taking a return flight from another airport after 4 days.

Brooklyn has clubbed an official tour with the reunion, and thus wants to enjoy business class.

PYT factors in these requirements and comes out with the list of available flights for everybody. The fare combinations are attractive, as the app has suggested group discounts for Ethan & Claire as they are coming from the same city and open jaw fares for both Liam and Dylan.

Once the flights are finalized, PYT suggests pick up and drop cabs in California and the connecting cities. Since Dylan is on an open jaw, he gets options for his travel to close the loop as well.

Hotel booking can be handled in a similar fashion as well – however, the group prefers to stay at their alma mater and choose not to book any accommodation.

Prior to travel, the final step is payment. Ethan and his friends have been able to keep a tab on their total trip cost and pay at one go through the application itself. Multiple payment options are available – apart from Credit/Debit Cards/Net banking, the travelers can utilize their loyalty points with an airline together to settle all their dues or a part of it.

Friends can also decide to chip in with their money or loyalty points to gift the travel to one amongst them. In our case, Ethan’s group decides to go Dutch, split the total cost and pay for each travel individually.

PYT is also available for mobile devices, and would assist the travelers throughout their trip. For example, e-tickets and booking PNRs would be automatically retrieved based on the traveler’s current location (through GPS and Google maps) and they would be able to chat with each other throughout the trip.

Behind the scenes: technology enablers

Creating a truly integrated shopping experience requires the capability to dynamically retrieve and transmit content from/to multiple sources: including third party review sites, destination info sites, maps, GDS, OTAs, LCCs, Loyalty programs and a robust payment gateway.

All of these would be sitting on a common social platform, which would then provide communication abilities – to add friends, chat, post updates and notify members of the group. The social platform would also be instrumental in providing analytics data.

Let us go back to the step when an event was created with the venue as California, and a number of people expressed their interest in attending it. By analyzing the locations of all participants, the social media marketing analytics engine of a prominent travel organization was able to put two and two together.

The event had the potential to increase flights in and out of California over a particular weekend, and a selective advertising campaign was initiated targeted to people like Ethan. (Similarly, other activities which have the potential to generate travel can be identified as well. For example, people who have recently been engaged).

After Ethan is directed to the application, the Recommendation, Content Retrieval & Comparison engines come into play. Based on the details gathered from the event, flight availability is automatically retrieved and displayed.

Since the event is planned over a weekend, the context is understood and Friday evening flights to and Monday morning flights out of San Jose are displayed at the top, thus reducing the user’s intervention to a minimum. Since flight and hotel inventories can vary in presentation based on the source, the comparison engine streamlines and standardizes the content.

Additionally, the content engine also pulls out data relevant to the destination, such as weather reports, sightseeing options and travel advisories.

Since multiple users need to travel together, the Itinerary module creates separate itineraries for each user, along with options to book connecting travel. The itineraries would be integrated with the Loyalty Programs, in order to credit or deduct points and also apply any offers applicable to a traveler’s membership.

The payment gateway would depict a combined trip itinerary but accept payments separately.

Each itinerary can be separately or jointly confirmed, ie. booking trips only if tickets are available for all passengers. Payment can also be made by a person who is not a traveler, thus allowing people to gift travel to each other.

The social media application would largely function as an aggregator, thus being lightweight. An overview of the various modules being aggregated is given in the table below:

DisciplineAction
Social media analyticsThis engine is required to generate relevant leads at the first stage. A decent analytical tool will come with the following functionalities:

* Gauging customer sentiment (attitudes, opinions and trends) across dispersed sources
* Analyzing conversations
* Predicting customer behavior and recommending actions
* Identifying the primary influencers within a social network group
* Creating customized campaigns and promotions
Recommendation engineThis would analyze user preferences and general trends to come up with “similar services” to facilitate up-sell and cross-sell.
CRMTo incorporate and analyze previous travel feedback, and store Customer information for future use
Content retrievalTo support a customer’s research, content needs to be fetched from Official destination pages, GDSes, LCCs, OTAs, Cab/Bus/Cruise engines, third party review aggregators, influencer blogs, regulatory authorities and other myriad sources.

The dynamic content can be retrieved via APIs extended by friendly service providers, and static content (E.g. Government regulations which rarely change) can be uploaded directly.
Comparison engineSince content from different sources can vary greatly in presentation and formats, a robust framework to analyze and standardize the data is necessary. This will help the customer by expediting the decision making process.
Itinerary managerThis application will help the passenger keep track of all bookings and will dynamically load data without requiring manual entry (E.g. Apple Passbook). It will filter out conflicting schedules and will also prompt the user for changes in cases of rescheduling (E.g. Flight Delay).

The Itinerary manager will also keep track of the tickets and receipts, and will automatically update tasks completed with the help of GPS Tracking and Flight/Rail running information.

A chat tool would also be required to facilitate synchronous/asynchronous communication between fellow travelers.
Commerce engineThe payment gateway would consolidate all costs, allowing the customer to pay one time while distributing the payments according to prevailing contractual agreements. Subsequently, bookings will be confirmed and acknowledgements would be provided.
LoyaltyTo apply benefits applicable to a passenger’s loyalty tier, and facilitate redemptions through loyalty points.

Some offerings in the online marketplace

Some products which fulfill part of the Social Travel requirement are already in existence. The following were found to be worth mentioning:

  • Pintrips – Pin Trips recognizes prominent travel aggregators, and allows you to select meta search results which you like. These selected (known as pinned) results will thus start compiling on your own personal dashboard which can then be shared with friends. The dashboard will be automatically updated with any changes in fares as well, so you need not go back to the OTA after your first search.
  • Gogobot – A mobile and online publication, Gogobot allows users to write their own reviews about destinations, and also plans to combine the same with expert reviews. The user profiles are from Facebook, thus allowing a traveler to view reviews from his friend circle rather than from anonymous people.
  • FlightswithFriends – This website allows users to book group flights and hotels for upto 2-9 people. Search can involve flights from different destinations, and all applicable flights are displayed. Once a decision has been made, the site redirects to the actual OTA.

The possibilities: emergence of a new distribution channel

Seven hundred million of anything is hard to ignore. As the Facebook community continues to grow, organizations are getting desperate to tap into the largest group of potential consumers.

This holds true for the travel industry as well: some Airlines and hotels have been quick to capitalize the opportunity by creating vibrant communities, which are kept engaged and all feedback is monitored diligently.

While such organizations do succeed in creating positive buzz around their brands, the key benefit of social media is the ability to turn existing customers into brand advocates.

After all, such advocates can be much more influential than the most successful marketing campaign which would have come at a very high cost.

Consider the following numbers, which are self explanatory:

However, there are different opinions on how to measure the ROI for social media , none of which can be termed as the most conclusive.

Most of the uncertainty stems from the fact that the social channel is a source of intangible or long term benefits, which may or may not translate to positive bottom line growth.

This has led to marketers struggling to justify their budgets to C-level executives.

In such a scenario, consider the concept behind creating a travel shopping application on top of a Social network: end-to-end integration.

Currently, online travel planning is a heavily scattered exercise. While travelers trust reviews found on third party forums, blogs or their own social networks, tickets and bookings are handled separately through OTAs or Airline/Car/Bus sites. Itinerary management is again relegated to a third party application, which requires manual data entry which requires updating in case of modifications.

When the entire booking process is handled on the social network, it transforms into a new distribution channel with its own stream of steady revenue: thus justifying the IT Investment immediately.

An end to end social travel application makes sense for the following stakeholders:

  • Global Distribution Systems – With GDSs already handling availability, it would be highly desirable for them to be able to include social media connectivity as well. This would allow them to move downstream and capture highly relevant customer data apart from last mile connectivity with travelers.
  • Online travel agents/travel management companies – While OTAs have started coming out with mobile and Social media applications, the switching costs for customers remain abysmally low. Customers do not need to think twice before checking out another travel aggregator, as there seems to be no difference in service apart from fares. With an integrated app in place, travelers will find it highly difficult to let go.
  • The social platform: social forums like Facebook tend to gain a lot from implementing a travel planner tool. The 2012 EyeforTravel Social Media & Travel Report states that 50% of all travel brands generate direct bookings from Social Media. It makes sense for the social platforms to claim their share of that pie.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Manu Agrawal, a senior business analyst at Interglobe Technologies.

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  1. John Pope

    Manu,

    Very interesting read for sure – illustrated by some fairly complex anecdotal use cases.

    If I’ve comprehended this correctly, these hypothetical scenarios are mainly about a vision for the future of travel, the way you think it should evolve. And not so much about past and present. Is that correct?

    If so, who do you envision being the primary, or likely, candidate to execute on such a grandiose vision, and be able to justify the substantial investment required, let alone the diverse expertise needed, to aggregate the many disparate entities necessary in order to concoct the seamless, and lower cost, travel purchase cycle you’ve described?

    I believe you alluded to three possible parties in your article:

    1) The GDS
    2) The Large OTAs
    3) The Platform itself (Facebook being the likely, or only, viable candidate)

    If we assume that the social media platform is Facebook, the problem with the first two candidates likelihood of executing this grand plan is Facebook would want 30% of the revenue. If it’s going to be as seamless as you describe, the entire process would need to take part within Facebook’s walled garden. No?

    If the transactions, and every other stage of the cycle/process is done outside Facebook, then the experience would remain pretty much the same as it is today. Facebook can still be a conduit, but nobody wants to have 30% skimmed off the top in order to complete the transaction – nor would Facebook allow all of the depth of content you’re describing within its walls.

    If it is Facebook that attempts to execute this, first off, do you think they have the correct IT architecture and infrastructure to implement such a plan? Do even they have all the resources and expertise? Do you think that Facebook would allocate the resources necessary to execute this plan, and divert their attention from other priorities?

    Combining all 8 elements, from your table above, is a massive undertaking, from both an IT perspective, along with the resources to make it happen – financial, human, BI, technical architecture and otherwise – I think you’d agree.

    So the main question I’m wondering is, because this is such a complex and complete vision for how travel could be – how do you see it practically and pragmatically being implemented or executed? And by whom, exactly?

    I really like what you’re suggesting, and think it would be very useful, if not ideal. But I’m having problems getting my head around all the practical obstacles and how it would happen in the real world – can you elaborate any further?

    And finally, is Interglobe building such an architecture, or have they already done so? And, are you just priming the audience for what’s to come down your company’s product pipeline?

    Very thought provoking piece, in any regard, as you may be able to tell. 🙂

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi John,

      First of all thank you for taking the time out to go through the article in such detail, and for posting some very challenging questions (phew! 🙂 ). I will answer them point wise.

      1. I would not say that this idea is very futuristic, because all of this is very much happening for retail. Nothing is new – the systems are already built, the analytics is in place. The only issue is to get all of these on the same platform, on which the customers are present in hoardes.

      2. I don’t think this solution is going to be a low cost one in the initial stages. The investments might be huge. The primary driver for this solution is simplification and customer experience enhancement, which will increase profits, and the customer might not mind paying slightly extra for the convenience. Coming to the question of Interglobe being a primary candidate, we are essentially an IT services company serving the travel industry. I believe we definitely are a probable candidate, if not the primary one 🙂

      3. Yes, that is my idea – bringing the Booking to Facebook as well. And I dont see any other social media candidate being a realistic candidate as of now (Sina Weibo and vk for Chinese/Russian markets probably).

      4. I believe if they don’t have the necessary technologies in place, it wont take them a lot of time to ramp up. Google is anyways on the brink of launching a travel tool using GMaps. Search for directions from A to B, and Google is subtly going to ask, “Do you want me to take you there ?” Nobody can deny them a 30% share as the Search is owned by them. And Facebook does have a Travel division in place already.

      5. I agree that this looks fairly complex. How I intend to get around this problem is by keeping the application very light weight, and asking it to only retrieve, reorganize and display the information by interacting with disparate systems through APIs. Booking need not take place inside Facebook – Only the form to record pax details and the e-ticket display needs to be present there. Thus giving the impression that it is seamless.
      However, If the technological infrastructure is created and owned by a GDS or OTA, I believe more favorable terms can be negotiated. However, think of the situation when Facebook creates it first – a lot of intermediaries will simply be driven out of business !

      6. This might not be the right time to speak about it 😉
      But as I have said before, we are essentially an IT Services firm, and take pride in our capabilities to offer customized solutions and implementations.

      Thanks again for these questions, as they made me think !

      Regards
      M

       
      • Drew Meyers

        “The only issue is to get all of these on the same platform, on which the customers are present in hoardes.”

        And that is the massive, massive challenge — and why so many have failed. Don’t get me wrong, someone is eventually going to figure it out…but it’s going to takes years and years of perseverance 🙂

         
    • Drew Meyers

      “Do you think that Facebook would allocate the resources necessary to execute this plan, and divert their attention from other priorities?”

      I certainly don’t. I wrote a post awhile ago about why the “facebook of travel” is not going to be facebook. http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/2013/04/03/why-the-facebook-of-travel-is-not-facebook/

       
      • Manu Agrawal

        Well, a monopoly is never good, and hope somebody else gets it right first.

        But it will be naive to believe Facebook won’t even be thinking about it – and I hope some folks from there would be reading Tnooz 🙂

         
      • Joe Lima

        I’m with Drew on this one. Facebook will not be the Facebook of travel. But not because of Zuck’s passion for something else, but rather; now that they are a public company, they’ll have to focus on financials. The margins in Travel are too small relative to their other business, Media.

         
  2. Gillian Morris

    I couldn’t agree more that someone needs to close this loop, and the travel tech ecosystem is littered with startups trying to solve this problem. The one I’ve seen that comes closest is Colombian startup agentpanda.co. Other promising companies:

    tripshare.com
    travefy.com
    groupeese.com

    That being said, the infrequency with which people plan travel is a huge barrier to entry for all of the above startups. People don’t want to learn a whole new system for something most of them do once or twice a year at most. Whatever happened to Google Wave?

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi Gillian,

      Thanks for these examples. I feel that once a provider gets everything on the same page (including booking, which is the most excluded feature in Travel Planning apps/websites), the mission can be called as accomplished.

      I will keep checking these.

      Regards
      M

       
  3. Tim Fernando

    Hi Manu,

    Great article and a line of thinking that we’ve been thinking about hard for the past year or so. Our startup Esplorio (launching next week) is designed to stay with the traveller throughout the travel lifecycle and integrating deeply with social networks to close the feedback loop from inspiration to sharing.

    Although you say that sharing is very mature on the social channel, I’d disagree. We believe that it’s mature for certain parts, e.g. you can share a Facebook album or push some Foursquare checkins to your timeline etc. What’s missing is an entire encapsulation of a trip, not just the individual parts but all the things you did, places you went to, things you said which are already being recorded disparately across multiple networks. By bringing this together and providing analytics on it, we are providing recommendations and booking avenues by integrating with multiple third party APIs, not unlike your example above.

    I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts sometime.

    Cheers,

    Tim

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi Tim,

      What you say is true – Probably I should reorganize my thoughts and rephrase – The maturity is in terms of reach (how many people are sharing), but not in terms of extent (what are they able to share).

      Best of luck for Esplorio. I would be looking forward to its launch.

      Regards
      Manu

       
  4. RobertKCole

    Some very good points, but I believe you need to look at travel as a seven-stage cycle:

    – Inspiration
    – Research
    – Planning
    – Validation
    – Booking
    – Travel
    – Sharing

    with the last step, sharing, spreading inspiration to others.

    I like the fact you break out the Inspiration, Research and Planning phases – that is very important and a topic I have debated with clients over the past nine years.

    The validation and sharing steps are obviously driven by social computing processes, however, social can also play an important role in the inspiration, research and planning stages.

    I also consider the integrated shopping experience you mention with a bit broader perspective – I call it the end-to-end travel experience. The post-booking travel experience itself will ultimately need to be an integrated experience as well – providing products & services best matched to the unique itinerary-centric personas of the traveler’s party.

    Finally, in your Discipline List, I would add Predictive Analytics. When executed properly – to truly benefit the traveler and not just fatten travel seller sales margins, Big Data applications may provide insights into nuanced product offerings that create unique consumer value, improve guest satisfaction and inspire interest in future planning.

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi Robert,

      Good point about the E2E travel experience – that is a much better term which somebody mentioned it to me earlier as well, and I simply forgot to use it. You are right, what we need is E2E.

      Ditto about Predictive Analytics – it should definitely figure in the list.

      About Validation, I am not really that sure I can come up with concrete examples of what the customer does there. I feel that is a very niche stage, and some travel experts (I am not one, btw 🙂 ) might cover it as a part of Research, Planning or Booking. In discussions, I have actually had a tough time differentiating between Research & Planning too !

      Sharing is already very mature on the Social channel, as I replied to Todd.
      Post Booking Experience will be where loyalty will be increased – imagine both of us booking a shared cab to the Airport (I am stingy !), and when the cab picks you up, I get a notification.
      And there’s an integrated chat tool, where the entire group of folks travelling to the same destination can keep glued into a conference, with notifications like “Manu checked into the Airport”, and “Robert’s done with the Security Check !” [along with GPS location based tagging so that I know where my friends are on the Airport]
      Imagine the kind of conversations that would enable, and the revenue possibilities.

      Thanks
      M

       
      • RobertKCole

        Manu,

        I have to disagree that Validation is a niche stage. TripAdvisor branded sites are now getting over 200,000 monthly unique visitors. why? They are trying to get their decisions validated. It’s the same reason leisure travelers use travel agents – especially for expensive, complex itineraries to destinations that are unfamiliar.

        Looking at the Research aspect (destination selection, identifying universe of possibilities) versus Planning aspect (logistics, schedule & budget) versus the Validation aspect can be extremely helpful – particularly when considering different traveler personas. I happen to have extensive exposure to this area – if you want to understand why different people make specific behavioral travel decisions, you sure as hell better break down the “shopping” process (which also includes Inspiration) into sub-components.

        Similarly (although I don’t break it down in the context of my Seven Stages) a good number of travel sites or app developers fail to utilize optimized processes in the booking phase. It is not just a simple booking – there is the inter-relationship of business rules governing traveler, intermediary and supplier processes.

        Inventory, pricing, visibility and eligibility significantly impact availability requests; radically different information may be received in availability responses that require alignment for a quality user experience.

        Even the booking itself – particularly if it is a highly complex transaction, for example, a dynamically priced package. requires a specific processes to transact and settle, not just successfully, but efficiently as well.

        All of these industry-specific, nuanced processes are necessary to deliver a quality E2E travel experience.

        I am also of the opinion that loyalty is increased by consistent quality execution throughout all phases of the travel process. An organization earns customer loyalty based on shared values. A feature or function that creates value may create transactions, but true loyalty takes more time to develop. Offering the best deal or the richest rewards program doesn’t create loyalty – those are transactions. True loyalty is when the customer seeks out and buys your product or service, even when it may cost more or even be slightly less convenient – those failings are forgiven by true loyalty.

        For example, take a look at the presentation I gave to the HSMAI Resort Marketing group on Mobile Best Practices over 2 years ago: http://rockcheetah.com/blog/mobile/mobile-marketing-best-practices-hsmai-resort-speial-interest-group/

        Take a close look at all those Apple iTravel patent exhibits. Apple knows something about brand loyalty. Apple is contemplating technical E2E solutions that encompass the full travel experience – within a controlled ecosystem to help earn loyalty.

        I would also argue that sharing is nowhere near mature. Your geotagging example focuses on social computing among friends. I look at the future sharing as also encompassing both businesses and the Internet of Things.

        There is absolutely no reason that if a trusted relationship exists between a hotel and its guest arriving at the airport, that the hotel can’t:

        1) Immediately locate the traveler upon their arrival, escort them directly to their vehicle (or if it is an autonomous vehicle, I suppose it could find the traveler as well)
        2) have the luggage collected and transferred to the hotel through a separate parallel process (plus have it unpacked, if desired)
        3) provide room number notification and access authorization directly to the guest prior to arrival so they may proceed directly to their room (or be greeted by name and escorted by an assistant manager)
        4) Room service delivers (or the restaurant prepares a table for) a perfectly cooked dinner to coincide with the guest’s arrival.
        5) Plus have all this happen when a flight is delayed 2 hours and the guest arrives at 11:00pm when the restaurant’s dinner service normally ends at 10:00pm.

        Impossible? I beg to differ – I have seen the above executed by a 25-room Caribbean resort in the late 1980’s – without the benefit of automation.

        That is but a small fraction of a true E2E travel experience. Much of it is facilitated by interactive, real-time social sharing.

        And trust me, that level of execution earns a traveler’s loyalty. People normally have little objection to paying a little extra for flawless, highly personalized service delivery.

        That’s what I see as the future intersection of social and travel.

         
        • Manu Agrawal

          Hi Robert,

          Thanks for explaining these steps. I can visualize the traveler life cycle with much more clarity than before.

          Regards
          Manu

           
  5. Jussy/Hutchy

    I don’t think there are way too many disparate systems, i think there are multiple options for each niche which the market will dictate whether they are successful or fail. i.e. before the WWW, we had multiple travel agents on each high st, now we have multiple agents on each niche.

    What this article touches on is that we need open access to data to create personalized travel experiences rather than the current model of creating individual castles. The problem isnt too many systems, it’s that they’re not connected because they each want to protect their castle in the sand.

    More platform thinking less pipe thinking.

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Thanks for thinking this through from a different viewpoint – Even I believe that technology wise, we do not have as many issues as booking systems can be integrated with minimal effort. The problem is that when A and B come together, does it make equal sense for both of them, or A seizes all the customers.

      This is why I dont see a lot of individual service providers (individual Hotels or Airlines) adopting this approach, because you simply cannot offer convenience but take away choice from the customer (you can book on Facebook but you can only fly my airline). Stakeholders who will benefit from this would be organizations who already own an aggregator (OTA or GDS) or even better, the platform (Social Media). The idea is to keep doing what you do: simply extend it on Facebook as well.

      The platform folks have an upper hand here – they can wait for somebody to implement a model successfully, and then stop extending APIs and spin off their own model. But that is a risk that we need to take, and a benefit we need to grant them (SM), because they have the customer’s attention.

      In real world terms, the Social Network resembles an airconditioned mall in Dubai – the customer’s only going to shop there 🙂 🙂

       
  6. Todd

    Manu,

    Excellent article! Well thought out & well supported. I agree with you that the travel experience is inherently a social one. And I agree that the Customer Journey (Brian Sollis, Altimeter) is highly fractured in Travel today. Travel shoppers are spending way too much time using way too many disparate tools/sites, only to either abandon their shopping process & start over, or, to arrive at a frustrating, unsatisfying conclusion. I have my own plethora of personal examples. Rare is the fast, successful, enjoyable travel booking experience!

    One tip: by stopping as you do with booking, your travel cycle is incomplete: you miss the all-important in-destination & post-trip steps of the cycle. Here at Bynd we have been working to solve for broken Customer Journeys utilizing social engagement mechanisms beyond the mundane Like, Share, Comments to get consumers more socially — & happily! — engaged at key stages of their Customer Journeys: Inspiration > Intent/Planning > Purchase (we don’t cover this) > In-Trip > Post-Trip. And we’re doing this not just for Travel businesses, but for Retail & Media businesses as well.

    Cheers again on a very good article.

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi Todd,

      Thank you. And I do agree with you that the post-trip picture is kind of incomplete in this write up. However, isn’t the traveler already heavily engaged on Social Media post-trip ?

      I felt that Presently there was not much thought I could add there, but would love to know about any new ideas that you plan to implement.

      And I hope you do contemplate covering Purchase as well in the near future 🙂 , thus increasing traveler delight !

       
  7. Nicole

    This is a fascinating article. I am working on addressing this very issue with my travel startup Bon Voyaging (bonvoyaging.com). Thanks!

     
    • Manu Agrawal

      Hi Nicole,

      Great to see our viewpoints converge.
      I went through your website – This one seems to be a well maintained travel blog. Do let me know once your travel planner is released – would be excited to try it out ! 🙂

      Regards
      M

       
 
 

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