This is a space where consumer expectations are high and both traditional brands and younger disruptors are rising to the challenge with innovative service and design. Mat Hunter, strategy director of Central Research Laboratory is struck by the development of the end-to-end experience within the travel sector.
“Travel is an area where powerful consumer experience is being welded together by digital technology,” he says.
Innovations in technology allow travel brands to use design to deliver a seamless and connected, and increasingly personalised, experience as they move from A to B and beyond. Meanwhile, consumers are increasingly seeking out local and authentic experiences when they travel and brands are responding with products, places and experiences to stimulate and engage. Confidence abounds.
End to end experience
In response to a modern need to be constantly wired-up and inspired, today’s travellers are using phones, tablets and wearables to connect to new environments wherever they go. Deloitte finds that 76 percent of UK adults own one or more wifi-enabled mobile devices.
Consumers today expect everything to be cleverly packaged, arguably wanting the real world to work as instantly and seamlessly as the digital one does. Applications designed for the much-vaunted Apple watch are indicative of this trend: they include tools to smooth the way to boarding an American Airlines flight, securing a nearby taxi and unlocking doors at a keyless W Hotel.
Raymond Kollau, founder of Airline Trends says: “Airlines are busy developing their vision on digital disruption and transformation, while improving their digital and datamining skills, as well as getting their databases in order.
“A key development is the evolution of the airline mobile app into a digital companion that guides passengers during their journey and provides them with relevant functionality – be it the ability to order an Uber taxi to get to or from the airport, or providing access to the wireless entertainment system when up in the air.”
The Heathrow app attempts to relieve typical problems on a customer journey from home to terminal, onto the flight and beyond. As well as the opportunity to book car parking or order meals from restaurants in advance, travellers using the app receive prompts and travel notifications along the way to make their journey simpler and more fluid.
“With the impact of data and everybody having some sort of mobile device, that can provide a pretty holistic experience,” says Phil Gilbert, head of IBM Design. “There is a great opportunity for design to uncover fundamental problems and pain points.”
Advances in end-to-end product design benefit everyone who is part of the journey. With the launch of ‘airband’, Air New Zealand caters to parental peace of mind. The wristband is designed for young people flying alone. Embedded with a chip, the device is scanned at key stages of the journey to trigger text notifications for up to five nominated contacts.
Personal experience is key to the travel industry and through leveraging technology travel brands can offer products, services and messages that are customised and crafted for individuals. According to the 2015 WTM Global Trends Report in association with Euromonitor, “Smart technology is transforming the tourism industry with personalised services to create enjoyable experiences suited to a traveller’s individual preferences.”
Savvy brands aiming for relevance, engagement and competitive advantage collect rafts of data on their consumers. When exploited intelligently, this enables them to offer of more personalised experiences and greater customer satisfaction. “One of the things the big hotel groups are doing is using technology to ensure my experience is the one I expect,” says Anna Bateson, director of digital at Charlotte Tilbury Beauty.
Mobile apps are one of the ways hotel brands can build a valuable digital bridge with their guests. The human touch is still valued though, as is demonstrated by Starwood’s Ambassador programme, which pairs frequent users with a staff member to provide insider knowledge and tips on a given destination.
Ritz Carlton’s famous ‘ Ritz-Carlton Mystique’ is a strategy to deliver service that will surprise and delight. Staff are trained to listen and observe in order to track guest preferences, which are then carefully logged and shared with all 91 properties within its global portfolio.
There is a rethinking of traditional hospitality in the airline sector too.The personalised approach is typified by Virgin Atlantic and communicated with design on the ground, the air and the ether. The airline was one of the first to experiment with Google Glass and iBeacons as a way to provide personal service.
Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses, for first class passengers at a number of key global airports, are designed as spaces to allow the customer to determine the type of experience they would like. They incorporate secluded areas, sociable areas with more buzz, brasseries, spas and hair salons, as well as places to work and rest or be entertained.
Airlines are also increasingly investing in digital platforms. Lufthansa, for example, has recently launched an app initiative, SMILE (Surpass My Individual Lufthansa Experience), which delivers customised and personalised products, services, and communication to travellers throughout their journey.
Richard Cope, senior trends consultant at Mintel argues that the consequence of low cost airlines and the cheap city breaks they have fuelled in recent years, is the consumer’s desire to have a stronger cultural component to their holidays.
These more adventurous consumers, whether they be business or leisure travellers, are increasingly seeking out unexpected encounters and authentic experiences. Hotel brands including Ace, Fairmont and CitizenM are putting a focus on locality in their design and offering insider knowledge as part of their service.
Shoreditch in London is known for nightlife and contemporary design and those characteristics are embedded into the design of the Ace hotel there. Elements such as art and craft installations from local makers and guest rooms with turntables, record collections and guitars aim to bring the neighbourhood a little closer.
“The impact of design on our leisure travel has already been felt by incredibly disruptive brands such as Airbnb,” according to Clive Grinyer,
process improvement director at Barclays who says, “Technology service start-ups are using their deeper insight to how people really want things to be.”
Airbnb has blazed the ‘hometels’ trail across the world and has made room for others to create new kind of brands for a consumer that puts a high value on authenticity.
The Future Foundation’s Millennial Traveller Report finds that for this generation in particular, experience is everything. “Cultural appreciation and ‘living like a local’; independence and finding those hidden gems; originality and balancing the iconic with those experiences that are more off the beaten track.”
Users of the OneFineStay accommodation portal are encouraged to ‘live like a local’ in a number of global cities choosing from a range of carefully-vetted options from £200 to £2,000 a night.
The platform Withlocals take the concept one step further, facilitating meaningful face-to-face connections with local people and insider access to their native culture. Here, travellers across a range of countries can, for a fee, secure meals and bespoke tours with locals.
The authentic, the personal and the seamless experience are all part of the new travel checklist. With comfort and flexibility built in to all aspects of the journey, travellers are spurred on to relax and enjoy.