Travel industry and digital transformation are more closely linked than one imagines, to the point that all phases of the “tourist” experience have changed, from booking, to the stay itself, to after the trip. And now, there is no turning back.
In a previous post, we addressed the theme of digital tourism, analyzing its relevance within the overall tourism sector, and we concluded that, on closer inspection, tourism and digital transformation are now two realities destined to become increasingly linked and, in fact, inseparable.
This combination is very convenient from an economic point of view, since, as we will see, digital transformation offers many useful and effective tools that can be applied to different aspects of the tourism business.
We need only break down these impacts to see just how digital transformation impacts the sector across the board.
Moreover, when talking about travel industry and digital transformation, we must be careful to avoid a very common mistake, that of oversimplifying. The phenomenon does not end with the simple digitalization of reservations or the search for destinations and flights online.
On the contrary, it is the entire experience that is being transformed, from beginning to end. If we want to broaden the field even further, some of the services offered are also transformed, as well as the protagonists of this experience: the tourists themselves.
But let’s go in order and see how digital transformation has revolutionized practically all phases of the tourism experience.
The phases of an experience
If the above is true, i.e., that the effects of digital transformation touch every aspect of the tourism business, then it makes sense to look at the different phases.
Compared to the past, the customer journey of the average tourist has changed and can be distinguished in three different moments (digital-coach.it):
- The pre-booking phase;
- The trip phase;
- The post-trip phase.
As we will see, all three of these moments have been progressively “affected” by digital transformation, also thanks to the spread of specific digital solutions for each of these phases.
The pre-booking phase
Let’s begin by analyzing the first phase, which in some respects is the one in which the effects of digital transformation are most evident, since it is the research and booking phase.
It is now well established that most tourists, when looking for a new destination for their trip, are influenced by the internet and social networks.
This is confirmed by Nielsen research, according to which 70% of people are inspired by the travel opinions left by other online users, which are considered more objective and reliable than the suggestions of travel agencies, which instead appear biased in indicating one trip over another.
In one sense, the internet has taken the place of word of mouth between friends and acquaintances. After all, in a digital context where peer-to-peer relations are pushed to the maximum, the opinion of those who have already visited a destination has the same weight as advice obtained from a guide or travel agency.
Another way in which digital transformation manifests itself in the pre-booking phase is in amplifying the imitation effect between users, which occurs precisely thanks to social networks.
Social networks often play a key role when people have to choose the destination of their next trip.
This is once again confirmed by statistics: it has been found that 86% of people have become interested in a particular destination after seeing photos of other users on vacation in that specific place. The percentage increases to 92% if the responses of Generation Z are taken into account (stackla.com).
The ability of social networks to influence people is such that it takes no time at all to go from interest to facts. In the context of the same interview, over 50% of those interviewed confirmed that they had booked and organized trips based on videos and photos that friends, relatives, acquaintances, or other contacts had shared on their social media profiles.
On closer inspection, there is nothing surprising about this data, otherwise, we would not be able to explain the stable existence of some new professions, such as the travel blogger, a creator of travel content that many businesses and operators in the sector use to show off their facilities and services.
Social media is such an effective tool that, in 2018, nearly 80% of marketers used Facebook Ads and said that they have planned to increase their investments in this advertising tool for the following year (sojern.com).
The purchase phase
Continuing the analysis, it is easy to see how digital transformation has also changed the moment in which you buy a ticket, book a room, or purchase an experience.
The first aspect you notice is undoubtedly that of “disintermediation.”
What this means: Today, it’s now common for most travelers, tourists, or workers to book their trip in full autonomy, without the need for a human presence.
In fact, it has been calculated that in one year, more than 140 million people use the internet to book their vacations and other tourist activities, with a clear preference for the smartphone, which is now an irreplaceable tool for every tourist.
To substantiate this, consider that in 2018 alone, 82% of trips were booked through a website or smartphone app without the need for any human intermediation (adobe.com).
What does this mean?
That the internet is the new showcase where one must be strategically present so as to attract the greatest number of people.
Precisely for this reason, as a result of this new behavior stimulated by digital transformation, companies who want to remain competitive have begun to work on their digital presence, which has now become fundamental on a strategic level.
In this sense, it is not surprising that many companies in the sector have opened their own profiles on the main social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) in order to make themselves known to users and provide a direct channel for questions and bookings.
Among these, there are even some high-profile structures that operate in the luxury sector, testifying to a change in mentality where social media is an essential tool that does not “lower” the positioning of any business at all.
In the same way, the success of the major booking sites such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trivago, and many others is not a surprise. This has provided an incredibly convenient and indispensable tool for users and for operators who want to effectively reach future tourists (statista.com).
The importance of the internet in the booking phase is such that even digital tourism giants have partially modified their business in order to take advantage of this trend.
Just think of Airbnb, the world’s most famous hosting platform, which has begun to offer not only rooms to stay in, but also experiences and visits that may be booked directly online, on its website.
During the journey
Digital transformation has also changed travel itself, that is, the way that tourists live this experience.
The first and most evident change is, once again, that linked to social networks, which are widely used during vacations, especially for sharing their activities with relatives and friends.
This is once again confirmed by statistics: 74% of travelers say they use social networks while traveling and 97% of millennials say they share photos and other content on their profiles during vacations (martech.zone).
This means only one thing: Data, the large amounts of data that are put on the internet every day, and from which companies can start to know the tastes of users and somehow anticipate them, and which can be used to cyclically monitor trends, so as to ensure greater exposure while the user is surfing online.
It’s no coincidence that both Facebook and Instagram are considered the most effective channels for reaching new audiences with outbound content, respectively for 30% and 28% of operators (sojern.com).
Among other things, the more and better information you collect about your customers, the easier it is to reach them later with ad hoc communications and offers that leverage on their tastes and habits (think about personalized emails that can be sent following specific search or retargeting strategies, used to reach users based on their particular navigation path).
In the actual journey phase, digital transformation is not only manifested in the great use of social media; on the contrary, another very interesting aspect related to this change concerns the use of smartphones.
The digital transformation of travel industry, among other things, has also coincided with the election of the smartphone as the preferred tool for tourists on vacation, from which they hardly part. This is mainly due to the sense of independence it offers and the absolute convenience of its use.
This frequent and multiple use is once again reflected by statistics.
Not surprisingly, 68% of Italians use their phone as their primary source of information, replacing the classic paper tourist guide; in second place, 42% of Italians use it to share their experience, both immediately and later, when that experience is over
Finally – and this will be particularly important later – the third most frequent activity performed on vacation by Italians using their smartphones is leaving a review or comment on dedicated sites and apps.
The fact that three activities of this type are those most frequently performed by tourists shows how relevant the customer experience is, and all the more so now that the influence of what others do, experience, and share is amplified.
Not just while traveling, but during your stay as well
Fortunately, digital transformation offers hoteliers and other players in the travel industry incredibly effective tools to make a stay at their properties truly memorable.
Think about the Starwood chain, which has planned to digitize a major part of its services, such as the check-in or check-out phase, which can be managed directly from the customer’s smartphone thanks to an app.
But digital transformation can go even further, radically revolutionizing the hotel stay.
This is the case of KViHotel, the first fully digital hotel in Europe.
Located in Budapest, this innovative Hungarian hotel offers its guests a fully digital hospitality: You can book, checkout, and pay simply by using your smartphone.
But that’s not all.
There are many other services that tourists can benefit from autonomously thanks to the internet and smartphones. For example, they can open the door of their room and the front door via Bluetooth connection, book a cab with a credit card, set the ideal temperature of their room with a tap, and hang the (digital) “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
After the trip
All of this contributes to making the tourist’s experience unique and memorable, consequently pushing him to want to relive it or, even better, to want to share it with as many people as possible.
After all, the statistics above indicate just that: digital transformation has also influenced the final phase of the trip, which, when it is concluded, becomes the object of sharing on social networks.
What used to be the famous slideshows or albums of memories are now posts, selfies, and stories, entrusted to the network and to a wider audience.
In this way, tourism is realized with a cyclical dimension, which ends and restarts in a way that is almost self-feeding, since the more posts about a place are shared, the more relevant this content will become for other users who will want to visit it and post photos and videos in turn.
In conclusion, it seems clear, in light of the above, that digital transformation has radically changed travel industry, in two ways.
On the one hand, it has heavily influenced the behaviors and expectations of people, who behave in a certain way even in the face of the robust presence of digital technologies that are integrated within their vacation.
On the other hand, it has provided operators with many different tools to be able to satisfy the “2.0 tourist” who is certainly more demanding, but in some respects more easily reached and attracted given a large number of platforms and digital solutions available.
Anyone wishing to operate within the sector must align themselves with these needs and trends and also showing themselves willing to change their strategies and their approach to business to ensure satisfactory results in the long term.