The British essayist T.S. Eliot is often quoted as having said that “the journey, not the arrival matters.” Today, the journey continues to be important, but what separates a good travel experience from a great one has arguably changed a lot.
Partly this is a generational thing. In the US, the number of millennials recently surpassed the number of baby boomers; the demographic trends in the UK are not any different. Millennials are not just growing in numbers, but also influence. Their preferences are setting the tone for many industries, such as travel, which have to respond.
Millennials are more likely to use a mobile device to book their flights and they are also more likely to expect feedback on mobile platforms too. Also, according to FlightView, 75% of millennials would pay extra for additional services that would grant them a better travel experience such as RFID luggage tracking and flight status alerts. A separate study from Nielsen says that millennials are the generation which is keen on airport shopping but 45% of people say the reason they don’t make a purchase is because they don’t have time. If they can spend less time queueing, there’s more time for airport retail outlets to drive revenues.
This means the travel industry needs to offer more personalised and trackable services, and guarantee minimal disruption. To satisfy this growing appetite, companies have to move their travel offering into the 21st century and change their approach and how they operate – putting technology at the heart of the experience.
We’re already seeing examples of new technologies cropping up in airports around the world that have a positive effect. For example, facial recognition at border control gates allows for better security and faster check-in times. The problem is that not all new additions to our airports are able to combine security and speed. The thinking is usually that if we want to speed things up, security suffers. But there are ways in which security can inform innovations that are also beneficial for the overall passenger experience.
Take personalisation: the key to success is that everybody works together; by collaborating, for example by sharing the data they collect, they can deliver a win-win. Passengers get a better experience, and security becomes dramatically better because services can draw on a bigger pool of data.
These data flows are something that needs to be built in the future. The starting point should be the sharing of data between the airlines and airports. Many would assume this already takes place, but it doesn’t always happen. There are opportunities to grow this channel of information to the point that both are working hand and glove. It will benefit service delivery, benefit security, and most importantly, it will benefit customers.
Big data can also make airports not just more secure, but also friendlier, less faceless places. That exchange of data we just discussed? Extend it to other partners and the whole travel experience becomes seamless and more enjoyable. Imagine this scenario: A flight has been delayed and will require passengers to wait overnight. When airlines and airports work closely with other partners, they can make the lives of their customers as easy as possible. The same boarding pass that will be used to eventually board the flight could also be configured to provide access to a local hotel and restaurants.
A connected infrastructure can also be used to offer shopping deals that are tailored to individual customers based on previous purchases.
Sure, legislation is a key consideration when it comes to the use of big data, particularly in high security buildings such as airports. But if the right kind of regulations can be agreed, we can expect that big data will soon deliver better personalisation and minimised travel disruption. But it isn’t just legislation that needs to be on the side of innovative technologies. Companies in the travel sector themselves must also be prepared to change and find new ways of working that keep their customers happy.
Virtual assistants is another area that could drive customer experience improvements in years to come. Dealing with human members of staff at an airport could just be one of the options. AI-powered chat bots can be integrated with backend systems and social media platforms to create additional ways for passengers to interact with airlines and airports.
This, again, will also help to control congestion and misinformation that are common bugbears for passengers. Key considerations here though, is the technology to automate dialogue with users in natural language. Otherwise, ‘robot rage’ could be an undesired side effect that users experience.
With all of these smart methods of offering new services, we shouldn’t forget the fundamentals. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few examples recently of what happens when systems go down and technology fails. The bare minimum of what a customer expects is to be able to board their flights and be informed of any delays. We should always be able to keep the lights on as we bring our innovation to the next level.
Maybe T.S. Eliot was right. Maybe we don’t need to focus all our attention on the destination, because the journeys themselves can be so much more fulfilling. In fact, we can redefine what a journey looks like, if we look beyond the traditional picture of just ‘getting there’.