Digitizing the tourism industry: Where is the (customer) journey headed?
What is the customer journey currently like in the tourism industry? What role does digitization play in all this? A study by the industry association Bitkom shows that the future of travel is digital.
Digitization is changing everything, even travel – be it in the search for the next trip destination, during check-in at the airport, or when looking up foreign dishes on the menu. That is the conclusion of the representative study “The Future of Travel Is Digital,” for which 1,012 consumers 16 years and older were surveyed on behalf of the industry association Bitkom. The inspiration for one out of every four trips came from the Internet, in particular from comparison websites and online advertising (14 percent), travel blogs (7 percent), or social networking sites (4 percent).
When searching for specific offers, “online first” already applies today: 43 percent of vacationers search exclusively for offers online, while only 26 percent rely exclusively on offline searches. However: Local travel agencies do still play an important role. 48 percent of those surveyed trust in the competence of local consultants, while 43 percent utilize travel agency websites. “It’s never been easier for travel service providers to get into contact with customers in order to optimize an offer,” says Bitkom CEO Dr. Bernhard Rohleder. “In the future, it’s going to become more and more important to use and take advantage of technical opportunities – from having an online presence, to digital distribution, all the way up to social media channels and review platforms.” After all, 64 percent of all vacationers rely on trip reports on review platforms, with one in four writing one themselves after their own trip.
Digital technologies for better service
Almost every second consumer books their trip through a travel agency because they value either the personal contact (63 percent) or the quality of the advice (58 percent). People also trust travel agencies more when it comes to data security and data protection. In contrast, online bookers prefer the independence from business hours (91 percent), the greater comparability of offers (81 percent), and the time savings (67 percent) in the digital world.
So, travel agencies still have a good starting position in the competition for vacationers. Digital technologies could actually provide them with crucial added value. That’s because 78 percent of those surveyed would use devices like tablets to help with personal consultation, and 70 percent would gladly take a look at 360-degree pictures of their travel destinations on a screen. One out of two would even be interested in being able to experience the destination beforehand by means of virtual reality headsets.
Here, the digitized customer journey is still far from over. That’s because those surveyed also use or want digital support during their travel. For example, up-to-date flight information on gates and delays sent to their smartphones at the airport (75 percent), online or mobile check-in (66 percent), help orienting themselves in the airport via app and augmented reality (52 percent and 35 percent, respectively), or information on landmarks or sights they are flying over that is shown on a digital display in the window (71 percent). Nearly every second person would also like to control the light, ventilation, and temperature of their seat via smartphone or tablet. And 69 percent would enjoy smart home technologies at their resort so that, for example, room service could automatically detect whether they were currently in the room. However, automated check-in – utilized frequently at airports – would only be a useful option for one out of four.
More offers, more options
So what does this mean for tourism companies and their customer dialogue? The Bitkom study shows that nearly half of consumers view new technical options like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), automation, and self-service positively, but high-quality, personal consultation still plays an important role. It is therefore worth the effort to take a closer look at the opportunities of AR and VR in customer service. And in many cases, a self-service portal is exactly the service package customers would like.
With such digital offers, tourism companies can not only complete their customer service. “Right now virtual reality is opening up possibilities in tourism that we wouldn’t have even thought of some time ago,” says Bernhard Rohleder. “Virtual travel can be interesting, especially for places that are difficult to access or even ones that don’t exist anymore. Going to the Roman Forum and watching Caesar and Cicero: with mixed reality, this will be possible in the future.” Companies can also use digital offers to improve their data pool and develop analytics solutions.