Ahead of her speaking slot at Travel Technology Europe later this month in London (details here), we caught up with Samantha Markham, Digital Marketing Manager, UK & Northern Europe at the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Markham gave us an insight into her view of evolving customer experiences in travel, from diversification to chatbots.

Econsultancy: What do you characterise as your biggest marketing challenge at the Hong Kong Tourism Board?

Samantha Markham: Keeping Hong Kong front of mind as a desirable travel destination – in a world where all corners of the world are becoming more and more accessible, travellers are often looking for something a little less ordinary, a little less explored. Hong Kong is anything but ordinary – but it’s not a new destination, so as marketers we’re tasked with challenging perceptions, communicating what’s new and opening minds to the lesser-known sides of Hong Kong, such as its beaches, its diverse art scene and hidden hiking trails.

E: At Travel Technology Europe, you’re talking about voice and intelligent assistants, do you see any compelling brand implementations at the moment (e.g. Alexa Skills)?

SM: I think a lot are still in their infancy and those that can quickly learn from their users’ requests, preferences and behaviours have the most chance of wider adoption. Skyscanner seems to be off to a good start – though some destinations are better recognised than others – whilst I really like the idea of Kayak’s budget-based element, where you can ask it to inspire you with trip ideas based on a maximum budget. LOLA Tech is also doing some very interesting things within the hotel space, with in-room assistants and virtual concierge services.

I use Google Assistant on my phone and it has a nice embedded feature with TimeOut, however I’d like to see it offer up more suggestions within Assistant before driving you to the website. Outside of voice, the Adidas Women chatbot for Facebook Messenger  is incredible – it has a flawless sign-up, waitlist and class attendance system all powered by Chatfuel.

timeout assistant

Expedia will also be co-hosting the tech huddle session with me [at TTE], so we should also get some insight on what’s to come in their partnership with Amazon and other voice-based technologies.

E: How do you cut through the enormous amount of travel content – is the Tourism Board all about data and targeting, or creativity?

SM: Both! Certainly a huge aspect of what we do is based on identifying relevant audiences and interests, then segmenting and targeting on relevant platforms or sites with contextually matched Hong Kong content (often based around experiences, e.g. where to eat and drink, seeking out local culture, best beaches or rooftop bars etc).

That said, an exceptional photograph or video of a destination often has universal appeal, which we’ve seen with our Great Outdoors series of images, which was picked up in the national press, as well as creative based around Instagram or social-worthy scenes that are hugely appealing for our younger audiences.

E: Which travel brands do you admire when it comes to multichannel customer experiences?

SM: I know it is a brand that polarises opinion, but I’m still a huge admirer of AirBnB, and in the way they’ve looked to evolve into being more experience-based, encouraging travelers to get to know a local area either though self-exploration or via the host. I suppose what’s most interesting now that they are promoting and selling in-country tours, is that they are diversifying to be a multi-commerce point for the travel customer.

I think even more-so than multi-channel, travel brands are looking for the best ways to be the primary provider for several elements of travel itinerary, in the way that online travel agents and airlines have been doing for a long while.

E: If you had to identify one part of your marketing team as an area of growth, which would it be?

SM: I think artificial intelligence will continue to permeate through our processes, from improving visitor services through AI-driven messaging and ‘smart city’ services in-country, to the process by which we identify, execute and refine our digital advertising opportunities. So being able to manage these alongside more ‘human’ interactions and expectations will be perhaps an area of growth – in the same way we scrutinise big data alongside qualitative metrics.

Elsewhere – with GDPR looming, I think marketing teams in all organisations are inwardly reflecting on the ways in which they use data now, and how those could be better moving forward – both an area of growth and an opportunity for change.

Travel Technology Europe takes place at Olympia, London, 21-22 February.

N.B. Econsultancy and Travel Technology Europe are both part of Centaur Media.