I booked my first solo trip when I was 19 to explore Berlin for a few days. I didn’t have a smartphone by this point. Airbnb didn’t exist and blogs were my favourite source of travel inspiration. 


Fast forward 10 years and the way I plan, book and manage my holidays is far more elaborate yet more simple and immediate than ever before. Technology empowers us to compare fares, anticipate the best times to set off, preview experiences, check reviews and visualise locations with a few clicks of an app or a conversation with a chatbot. So how are travel brands delivering more ‘remarkable’ experiences throughout the customer journey?

Making searching for inspiration and trusted guidance as easy as possible

According to Google, only one in three leisure travellers are sure of their destination when they’re first thinking about a trip. Brand loyalty, both for hotels and airlines is low. Apps, websites and voice assistants affect how we might narrow down a search. I remember how excited a friend was when she downloaded the Skyscanner app several years ago and spent 10 minutes going “You can fly to ____ for ___ ?!”. In 2018 the app is still one of the best for discovery, price tracking and booking with its incredibly slick user experience.

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It was also one of the first travel brands to become available over Amazon Echo, making it especially easy to ask Alexa for the cheapest flights for your desired destination and dates. It’s been predicted that over half of internet searches will be voice-activated by 2020 meaning that a conversation with your personal assistant will be all that’s needed to kickstart the travel planning process. However, as pointed out in this article, consumers may not be ready to book over voice as pictures and VR play an important role in the final purchase decision. But if one day personal assistants could locate all the information we needed and send it to us via email or messaging app perhaps it will become the norm to see through more of the purchase journey via voice.

 

Immersion and previewing in the pre-booking stage

360 video and Virtual Reality are helping consumers evaluate everything from hotel rooms to local tours. Even when we’re not actively planning a holiday social media posts help stir up our wanderlust. Hotel brands like Marriott and Shangri-La were quick to deliver VR tours of holiday experiences. Airlines like Qantas have also provided immersive views of their seating to help travellers preview their flights. Although VR has obvious applications for the travel industry, its use isn’t widespread. The thing that got me most excited recently was reading that Airbnb is experimenting with both VR and AR to help travellers visit a home, as well as understand house rules and features, before booking.

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Virtual reality is more than just a way to preview something, it’s becoming a way to offer an alternative experience. As demonstrated by the world’s first VR airline, Japanese brand First Airlines offers a chance to travel to places like New York and Paris without ever leaving Tokyo. Customers can book Business Class seats and “embark” on an Airbus in Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s business districts. Aside from enjoying an authentic cabin service (including in-flight food), you can take a virtual tour of the cities you’re “flying” to with a headset. It may seem a little odd to pay 5000 Yen to not fly anywhere but this example shows how brands are catering to a generation eager to connect through a unique, shared experience.

Exceeding customers’ expectations by letting them personalise as much of their stay as possible

The experience economy continues to be a growing trend and is shaping how travel brands expand their offering. Airbnb launched its Experiences platform in 2016, enabling travellers to easily discover and book local tours, classes and events. AccorHotels recently launched a mobile app that connects hotel guests with local businesses’ products and services, as well as services offered by their partner hotels. Even if your hotel doesn’t have a swimming pool, AccorLocal will show you where you could easily access one near your accommodation.

PlacePass, which connects travellers to 100,000+ tours and local experiences in cities all over the world, received a big investment from Marriott Hotels last year. Marriott has integrated PlacePass into its Rewards programme so its hotel guests can redeem their points against unforgettable experiences. With Excite being one of our trends for 2018 we anticipate consumer demand for holiday-enhancing apps and platforms will only increase. Perhaps one day voice-assistance will make its way into hotel rooms, enabling us to book a private wine tour or Michelin chef cooking class even more smoothly than before.

 

How might we deliver even more ‘remarkable’ travel experiences in the future?

Artificial intelligence will be visible in more aspects of the travel booking experience. It could be seen in apps that learn our travel behaviour and anticipate our needs, serving us inspiration and offer details just at the right time (without overwhelming us). It could be more sophisticated airline chatbots that have learned how to converse with us in a more natural way.

Partnerships like this one between WeChat and Washington DC will continue to emerge, as brands establish ways to connect travellers better with their surroundings. With the developments of things like AR sound from Bose, consumers will be able to use multiple immersion techniques to experience things on offer at their destination.

-Kei Lawford, Futurologist