The IT-powered customer experience journey the travel industry has just begun to take

A futurist talks about the dangers of lower occupancy rates (and lower profitability) if firms don’t start making more strategic use of technology

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Technology is changing the way we travel — and the way we interact with travel and hospitality providers, according to a new report from Cision Global Insights.

Surprisingly, travel tech is still fairly new, and many providers haven’t yet integrated technology (at least effectively) into the overall customer experience.

And you probably don’t need a report to tell you that. If you think back to the last time you traveled — for business or pleasure — you probably have a few stories of your own to tell. A boarding pass that wouldn’t load on your mobile device, ridiculously expensive Wi-Fi at your hotel that required you to log back in every 10 minutes, a travel app that just wouldn’t quite work properly.

Blame it on the rise of the sharing economy — with the likes of Airbnb and Uber, among many others — but incumbents who haven’t changed their business practices in decades are now being forced to.

Travelers are also demanding it. According to the 2014 Expedia/Egencia Mobile Index, which surveyed people in 25 countries, 94 per cent of travelers take at least one mobile device with them on vacation and 97 per cent of business travelers always travel with a mobile device.

And yet, travel tech isn’t quite there yet.

Cision’s “Integrating Travel Technology into the Customer Experience” report looks at three aspects of travel: planning and booking, getting there and the destination experience. It found that travel apps are used more often during travel than when booking it; travelers like boarding apps but are less enthusiastic about booking apps. Wearable technology is also poised to become a key aspect of the travel experience (right now, wearable technology apps are largely limited to a few hotels and airlines).

While the use of travel tech is relatively new, successes include Apple’s Passbook app, wearable technology apps and entry to hotel rooms via smartphones, according to Cision.

“While travel technology successes abound, some developments have left consumers underwhelmed,” the report says. “For example, while many hotel- or airline-specific apps for booking travel exist, those apps are not widely accepted. … Even when users can compare multiple flights or hotels in one app, confusing layouts or search lag times may lead users to turn to other providers.”

Joyce Gioia, a business futurist and president of The Herman Group, says in The Herman Trend Alert travel and hospitality providers that don’t deliver these and other leading-edge technologies will find themselves with lower occupancy rates and load levels — and, of course, lower profitability.

“It’s not an option for travel providers to get onboard this train,” Gioia told expertIP, adding that these technologies need to be better tested before they’re released to the public.

“The Hilton app allows you to choose your own room, but the problem is it’s not complete because it doesn’t tell you that on a certain floor the only rooms that have bathtubs have two double beds,” she said. “At the same time, it was pretty cool to be able to choose my own room on the fly.”

There are a lot of cool ideas out there, but many are not quite there yet. “Some [providers] have technology that actually works,” said Gioia, “but it’s definitely a work in progress.”

Does your app provide true functionality, or is it more about the cool factor (or the fact your competitors are doing it)? And sure, wearable tech is cool, but does it make customers’ lives easier? When it comes to travel tech, cool isn’t enough — the customer experience is key.

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