The end goal for travel and hospitality brands used to be securing a booking. Now, in an increasingly competitive market, many are placing a greater focus on securing the best all-round ‘experience’.

In fact, this emphasis on customer experience is so high that it has now collectively overtaken customer acquisition as the biggest business priority in travel.

This finding comes from Econsultancy’s Digital Trends in the Travel and Hospitality Sector report in association with Adobe, which is based on a survey of over 600 marketing executives from OTA’s, transportation, hospitality and restaurant companies.

So, why is this the case, and what other trends are impacting the industry? Here is a look at some key insights from the report.

Success means adapting the customer experience to mobile

Today, mobile represents roughly one third of travel-related sales, with the mobile share growing around 15% year over year. 

As a result, adapting the customer experience to mobile and personal tech will be a key characteristic of successful travel brands in the years to come.

Interestingly, while features like voice search and location data will also provide opportunity for brands to improve CX - the over-arching trend looks to be all-round faster service. 

This means reducing the time between consumer desire and completed action, via features such as pre-ordering and speedy check-in.

Data isn’t the only barrier to personalisation

Online travel agencies are 56% more likely than other sectors to cite data as the greatest barrier to delivering personalised experiences

So, while these organisations might possess the ability to collect sufficient information on customer’s cross-device usage, this data often remains siloed and therefore unused.

For other hospitality and restaurant brands, however, the human element is often the biggest roadblock to personalisation. 

This is because personalisation efforts require a certain amount of sophistication on top of data and technology, meaning if teams lack time, skills, and enthusiasm – it is going to remain a big challenge.

Differentiation through CX is crucial

When it comes to industry pressures, the biggest competition for OTA’s comes from search engines (48%) as well as other online travel agents and meta engines (45%). Meanwhile, low-cost providers are the single biggest threat for both transportation and restaurant companies.

The assumption might therefore be to compete on price, but this can be dangerous, mainly because a race to the bottom will typically only benefit companies with sufficient scale and financial muscle. 

Rather, the key to success is differentiation through customer experience. Of course, using this as a strategic goal brings up challenges of its own, leading to stretched resources and limited focus elsewhere. However, the potential increase in margins, retention and opportunities for upselling is likely to be worth it in the long-run.

Consumer tech continues to have a positive effect 

Alongside industry pressures, the rise of consumer technology (such as smartphone use and cross-device browsing) has also had a marked impact on the industry. 

However, 48% of OTA respondents see it as having a positive effect compared to just 22% who think it has had a negative one. 

Meanwhile, the three other sub-sectors feel this even more emphatically - 66% of transportation respondents cited a positive impact, alongside 62% of hospitality respondents and 61% of restaurants respectively.

This is perhaps unsurprising, as with increased smartphone usage comes greater opportunity to engage with consumers and enhance their experience. What’s more, it has also resulted in a general increase in interest, with the number of unique visitors to all travel sites increasing 39% over the past three years.

More on travel:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 7 December, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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