If suppliers want to better serve travelers into the future, they best understand those future travelers’ needs. Festive Road managing partner Caroline Strachan, a frequent traveler and former travel manager, puts herself in their shoes to distill the essentials of personalization and engagement.

Two years ago, an audience member asked a great question whilst I was onstage at the IATA World Passenger Symposium. “What does the traveler of the future really look like?” My mind immediately went to all those glossy infographics and animated video clips our industry is so good at producing but always seem so far away from reality. I realized I had an opportunity to challenge people’s thinking and to bring in retail consumer behavior research from outside of travel. But I also needed to keep it real.

I said that encapsulating the needs of the real traveler of the future means three things: Know me, be where I am and tell me only what I need to know

What do I really mean?

Know Me

Whether I travel with your business four times or 40 times a year, I want — or even expect — you to know me. I want you to know I always choose that first flight out, as I would rather leave home at 5:00 a.m. to miss commuter traffic than double my home-to-airport journey time. I want you to know I always choose a seat in those first few rows of economy class (for a quick exit). I want you to know I don’t do budget hotels and always buy water from the mini-bar (so why don’t you just recognize that and give me a water bottle?). I want you to know I’m leaving the hotel at 6:30 a.m. for my return flight and therefore need a car booked.

I think you can see that I want you to be my best friend, to know my ins and outs. But our industry has built platforms that expect travelers to do the research, to piece together their trips and delivery options based on price or schedule. My perfect traveling experience is, however, so much more than price and schedule. And you already know so much more about me.

Be Where I Am

Why does a supplier expect me to come to them? Surely the supplier (of any good or service) is looking to make the consumer experience as accessible and simple as possible. Travel suppliers spend millions (into billions in the leisure travel space) acquiring customers/passengers/guests, as they need the traveler to come to them. What if that was turned on its head and the suppliers showed up where the traveler is?

For example, we use Slack as our preferred internal communications channel at Festive Road. Some forward-thinking travel folks have already built integrated Slack apps wherein you can make travel requests without leaving the preferred communications platform.

You might also be a traveler on the road who prefers to use “dead time” while driving to speak to an agent live. Or maybe you are a traveler who spends their life on their smartphone and expects to engage via Messenger, WhatsApp or a virtual assistant like FCM’s Sam or chatbot Mezi.

Each of these represents the supplier coming to the traveler where he or she is. This is what a retailer would call an “omni-channel” approach, where the same offer/service is available across multiple access points. They all lead back to a single record with the supplier – a single source of truth, regardless of channel accessed.

Tell Me Only What I Need To Know

Why, if I only ever take that 6:00 a.m. flight, are you offering me 200 pages of flight results? Why, if I only ever book a higher-end hotel, are you offering me the five budget alternatives ahead of the hotel you know I will actually choose? Whoever scrolls on Google anymore, let alone clicks through to page 2?

I led a number of demand management initiatives when I ran travel programs at a number of large organizations. Displaying a budget property alongside a high-end property isn’t going to make a traveler switch. A well-defined engagement program that helps travelers understand why change is needed, alongside smart point-of-sale messaging and supporting actionable insights, is what actually drives the behavior change. In the meantime, every other choice you present is just noise.

As consumers move from desktop to mobile, the condensed screen space will drive travel providers and agents to address each of these three needs and think differently. Compare any smart retailer’s desktop sites versus their mobile ones and you will see that they have to rethink the display. (Look at Expedia’s desktop versus mobile hotel booking as an example.)

I personally don’t believe voice (think Alexa or Google Home) has a valid use case until all three of these future traveler needs are addressed. I’m not sure Alexa will cope with reading out those 200 pages of flight search results, or indeed that travelers will have the patience to listen to them before throwing Alexa out the kitchen window. But for those providers who get this right and meet all three of these needs, I believe the traveler booking and selection process will become so finely tuned that voice could well become a booking option.

The challenge to know me, be where I am and tell me only what I need to know exists everywhere — not just in travel. Who will meet the challenge first? No doubt other, less complex sectors will get there quickly, which will in turn drive consumer expectations in travel.

So where does the opportunity and responsibility sit? Intermediaries such as travel management companies and online booking tools have the most to gain here. By inserting themselves across the whole travel experience for every trip, they will be in a privileged position to bring this to life.

If we’re keeping it real, this isn’t happening today. But I’m an optimist and I can see the first movers emerging.

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  1. Hi Caroline, great piece! As a former “big company” employee, now running a small tech start-up, I’m struck by how much more fun it is to do my travel now than before. When I was running a large global travel program, or travelling on behalf of my former TMC employer, I not only set policy but followed it and dealt with all the constraints structured programs have. Your points around knowing who I am, what I like and how I work are often neutralised by corporate policy which is no doubt a factor in the slow uptake in the corporate sector. Now, I’m leading a small company where I have freedom to try different things and am able to take advantage of services and products that cater for exactly what you describe (as indeed you are correct, they ARE out there!) Given this newfound freedom I marvel at all that I was missing out on in a more traditional program and understand the frustration many corporate travellers have. I guess what I’m saying is that the program has to allow for the personalisation to take hold and programs that are more welcoming of allowing traveller personalisation are still in the minority. Until program design adjusts to the concept of the traveller centricity you outline above, I think we’re still going to have more pessimistic than optimistic travellers out there – you and me are still exceptions unfortunately!

  2. Great insights Caroline, always a pleasure to read and hear what you have to share. Agree on everything and I’ve been saying for over a decade “We make it a program they HAVE to use, but lets make it a program they WANT to use.” Make it easy and make it personal. Our own corporate travel field of dreams!

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