With digital technology and smartphones, the travel industry has reinvented itself. Internet proliferation began a change that was so unprecedented and massive, the travel industry is being re-invented and its stakeholders are still getting a hang of it. Driven by consistent upgradation and use of technology, online travel has grown consistently in the last decade being driven by consumers’ demand for greater convenience, transparent information and facilities like never before. ‘Mobile First’ and its impact on the world also play a big role in the travel research process. There has been a shift from booking travel via offline agents to booking online over the years. Savvy consumers are now looking for an overall travel booking experience, where they want to plan and book their accommodation, tickets, tours/activities on one common platform. Moreover, the online travel industry would continue to grow explosively and more and more bookings would happen on the mobile phone. The increasing penetration of smartphones and adoption of digital payments plays a huge role along with ease of use.
The reason for such a steep growth in online travel market lies in the fact that Indians have started using online booking of travel plans more frequently due to its convenience. Interestingly, India has the third largest number of internet users in the world after China and US. According to the Morgan Stanley Research report, internet penetration in India expected to grow from 33 per cent and 432 million internet users to over 60 per cent and 915 million users in the next 10 years. The e-travel industry contributes to a majority of 88 per cent growth of the Indian e-commerce industry. The main drivers of the growth are the increased spending power of the people, growing internet and credit card penetration, governmental initiative to spread tourism, emergence of new online segments and the much anticipated growth in civil aviation market.
According to a report ‘Demystifying the Indian Online Traveler’ published by Google India along with Boston Consulting Group, air travel expected to grow at 15 per cent to US$30 billion and hotels will grow at 13 per cent to US$13 billion by 2020. Additionally, as more people come online, smartphone penetration improves and use of digital payments goes up, the report estimates that India’s online hotel market will grow to US$4 billion with 31 per cent penetration at a CAGR of 25 per cent.
Trends in technology
Technology has led to democratisation of travel through better information and price discovery. The trends in technology in travel have not only been limited to bookings and portals, the impact of this trend is way beyond imagination. Right from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Virtual Reality (VR) to Cloud Computing to Drones, the new technology trends are heading towards a travel which is convenient, automated and personalised. The top technology trends are; Mobile first, Personalised travel, Big data, AI to VR and Internet of Things. The internet of things will be widely accepted in the hospitality industry including travel.
AR and VR are technologies that have recently picked up in popularity due to the immersive life-like audio-visual experience they offer. The key part that AR and VR play a massive role is in the planning process. Big data analytics is a technology that collects and studies past events.
“Technology has completely changed the travel landscape over the past decade, both for travellers and for companies. Online travel agents have empowered travellers by giving them the option of a wide variety of travel choices with complete transparency of pricing, all at the click of a button at their convenience. One of the most powerful competitive tools now accessible to companies is business intelligence software powered by big data analytics to help them personalise their offerings as per customer preferences,” Manish Amin, Co founder & CIO, Yatra.com, said.
“Digitalisation is at the forefront of the travel industry, keeping the global consumer behaviour, new age traveler and their optimum purchasing power in mind. Like any other industry, digitalisation has changed rather upped the game with the kind of reach and impact it has on the desired audience,” Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions, said.
According to Rajeev Kumar, CEO, Mystifly, travel technology trends are always driven around the changing consumer needs. “Technology enhances and aids customer experience. Customers are now seeking travel experiences that closely align with their own personal values. The unfulfilled needs of travellers influence technology evolution and this has also led to massive transformation in travel distribution,” Kumar said and added that we have no doubt that customer experience is the new battlefield. “Technology differentiation in the future would be centred around AI and Predictive Analytics,” he opines.
Amitabh Misra, Founder and CEO, GoFro, says the travel industry is evolving and one of the biggest change is everyone is becoming it’s own travel agent. “New technology advancements in travel like AI and machine learning have made it easier for user to search across thousands of travel booking sites and a personalized curated options based on the preferences shared. The Automation and BI also helps in creating dynamic packages on the go based on customer preferences and booking experiences,” Misra adds.
The rapid pace of change in the travel technology segment is compelling players in the industry to come out with new and innovative tools to foray into new segments with an objective of having a competitive edge among the competitors. Most of the advanced technological changes are taking place in the business travel segment. Also, the digital disruption of the traditional travel industry requires the industry to find ways to communicate with the consumer, to get their feedback and provide them information that they can easily access across various social platforms and mobile applications.
Today with the ever evolving technology in the travel space, every player is looking to implement novel and innovative products to lure customers. “Yatra, is very focused on rapid technological innovations and advancements. To ease the booking process, we have launched multiple features like - a Facebook chat bot to enable booking tickets…, a self serve platform to address customer queries, a market place chat platform to enable travellers to chat in real time with the sellers and also integrated with Truecaller for easy onboarding and verification process,” Amin informed.
Even, FCM Travel Solutions has introduced the essential Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools for Indian business travellers to manage their business travel. “Digital Technology is the most underrated component of travel. While AI based travel is still at inception stage; given its potential for time and cost savings, user data analysis and “standard customisation”, SBT + AI can be a disruptive tool for corporate travel management. With the ever-growing business travel, the millennial workforce wants to take charge of not just their leisure trips but work-related as well. With blurring lines between work and leisure, inducing Bleisure, we at FCM, want to bring in the bliss of hassle-free travel, irrespective of one travelling or at workplace,” Desai said.
Similarly, Mystifly, a B2B airfare marketplace, has come out with a new concept. “ We are transitioning from a marketplace into a Value Hub Marketplace that aims at enhancing our customers’ ability to create better experiences for their consumers. Today, the world is ‘Mobile First’ and we are transitioning to enable our B2B customers to support the needs of this user base. We, as a business, also look to provide the same value to our customers, so that their service offerings are value-driven, creating a value-driven distribution chain,” Kumar said.
GoFro has built a system where a machine is reading the traveller inputs and machine-generated response is sent with the itinerary matching the customer needs out of a wide variety of packages ranging from fixed products from top brands and dynamically packaged personalised choices from suppliers all around the world.
Dynamic Packaging : A hard nut to crack?
While travel volume is expanding at a dynamic pace, travellers are slowly getting bored with the traditional, readymade package holidays. Now, travel agencies and tour operators have begun to offer the innovative ‘Dynamic packaging’ in order to attract more cost-conscious and variety-loving customers.
However, players of the industry believe that dynamic packaging is still in nascent stage in India. This is because no single service provider has had the dynamic packaging technology ready end-to-end. “The concept of dynamic packaging is still in its nascent stage. Though lot of Indian travellers are internet savvy and prefer to customise and book packages by themselves, there is still a major chunk of travellers who look towards online agents for their bookings,” Amin said.
According to Misra, dynamic packaging is growing faster than any other segment of holiday package industry. Two things which are very critical for its growth are; bringing a lot of supply together in one place, second is destination expertise available in a seamless and easy to use manner. GoFro is the leader in this aiding to the growth of this industry by integrating the traveller, the suppliers and destination experts on a single platform.
Kumar feels that Indian holiday travel is still in its nascent stages and travellers continue to demand a human touch either as a physical experience on the high street or on phone with well-informed consultants. “Human contact continues to be the key. The model is converging in India, with digital tour operators moving high street and traditional street operators building online models. This is giving rise to new avenues in the area of complex trip handling and servicing. Holiday shoppers in India are evolving and are becoming well-informed aided by easy access to enormous amounts of travel information. There is no doubt that growth in the holiday space is driven by digital,” Kumar said.
Disruption in the travel industry is the new normal with the evolution of personalisation as virtual reality and artificial intelligence is gaining steam. Technology is leapfrogging itself daily with proliferation of digital tools such as smart phones is making information more accessible, transactions more seamless, and processes more interactive. Traditional travel distribution in which high brick and mortar agencies played a dominant role was revolutionised with online travel agencies and direct distribution through airlines and hotels’ websites acquiring a key role. Now, this space is again being challenged by disruptors like Airbnb, Oyo and other players.
The move by Lufthansa and the proposed move by British Airways to bypass the GDSs is bringing new distribution methods in the industry. Even hotels are developing direct connect. “Everyone is trying to cut intermediaries to expand their own margins for greater profitability. In holidays, we are seeing similar trends with tour operators taking over the role of Destination Management Companies by venturing into contracting or DMCs selling directly to customers. By doing so, Tour Operators/DMCs are able to increase the margins and offer better prices to their customers. It is a win-win for the tour operators and customers, both,” Misra said.
Kumar, however, feels that both airlines aren’t trying to bring a new distribution method. “Historically as well, they have shown interest in packaging deals for customers directly, a noble endeavour indeed. However, in the context of NDC, all travel players cannot afford the time or finances to achieve this. While aspirations are inherent, most businesses (hotels, airlines or other services) will not be able to replace GDSs. Our belief is that GDSs will evolve in the foreseeable future. They are already doing so at a faster rate than ever. A model that has been around for 50 years can be evolved and improved but it is a difficult task to make it obsolete overnight, considering it continues to add great value. Having said which, the industry has shown capability to be volatile, and the direction this topic could take is something only time can tell,” he added.
Shaping the next generation of travel
According to Kumar, the next generation of travel will mostly be defined by the demand for value and heightened experiences. “Experiential travel has already taken the limelight and that is a preview to what’s in store for the industry. As for businesses, we are moving towards a future where service demand and delivery will be value-driven. With the focus being on experience and technology enabling transparency, the importance of a Value Hub Marketplace will continue to be unabated. We, as a business, also look to provide the same value to our customers, so that their service offerings are value-driven, creating a value-driven distribution chain,” Kumar said.
Misra said that Artificial Intelligence aided machine generated interaction for complex travel plans. Complex travel plans are largely at the first generation level so we see more penetration of AI and machine-generated automation building the complex itineraries giving immense power to the traveller to search and book the package.
Also, the evolution of mobile, social media, AI, Chat bot, etc will continue to change the travel industry landscape significantly. “The impact that social media, mobile and cloud has on various industries is already evident. End customers have always demanded convenience and with regard to travel, technology has only enabled convenience in an aggressive manner in the recent years. Customers are expecting social channels to do a lot more than just enable sharing and reviewing. Many companies have already started relying on AI, chat bots etc. to provide customer support. Customers demand that their queries be answered almost instantaneously and these technologies will make help the travel players communicate more effectively, resulting in heightened customer satisfaction,” Kumar said.
“AI, machine learning, mobile, social will have a massive impact in the in-destination experience of the traveler by providing timely notifications and recommendations depending on traveler's personal interests, location, time etc.,” Misra said.