Travel panel: Digital provides tools for engagement, but experience lies in humans

A panel of travel marketing and digital executives including Qantas shares their challenges in meeting the experience expectations of digitally and mobile connected customers

Digital is a means to bring immediacy, inspiration and personalisation to the traveller’s journey. Yet executing a good experience often still comes back to how digitally enabled data and insights are presented back to travellers through human interactions.

During the Travel Super Session at Adobe Digital Marketing Summit, panellists from Qantas, Wyndham Hotels, and Marriott discussed the digitisation and mobilisation of travel, and where they’re finding the biggest challenges in meeting the needs of connected consumers.

Qantas CMO, Stephanie Tully, said mobile is the key aspect of driving immediacy in relationships with customers, and noted how mobile devices are now present through every part of the travel cycle.

“Making mobile seamless, contextualised and personalised is key,” she told attendees. “Once a customer has booked a flight, and checked in on mobile phone, it’s about how we use those devices to ensure the experience in the physical world is then the best it can be.”

As well as using tablets for entertainment and logistics, Tully said flight attendants are equipped with Frequent Flyer customer data through mobile devices that can be used to enhance and personalise in-flight experiences. Information provided includes whether a flyer has recently moved up the member ranks, if they’ve experienced service issues, and preferred and implied service preferences. Qantas is hoping to extend the program to non-Frequent Flyers long-term.

Wyndham Hotels chief digital officer, Barry Goldstein, said up to 50 per cent of customers show up at its properties on the day they wake up, resulting in an average booking window of 12 hours. To address this need for immediacy, the group is looking at employing natural search to interact with travellers while they’re in their vehicles. It’s also exploring voice activation and how consumers could then book a room while still in their vehicle.

“All that is possible, the real challenge is understanding the data behind it,” Goldstein said, noting Wyndham is working to create a centralised data hub internally. “The second challenge is making sure when you show up on property that the systems can match to the experience you have created in the car, or in the office. It’s the holistic journey we’re thinking about.

“In a franchise model, in many cases, the version of the property management system may be different, and the ability to make those systems interoperate is extremely difficult - you’re crossing over Web-based apps as well as traditional legacy systems. Everyone says it’s all digital, just make it digital, but the reality is it’s the enterprise architecture behind it that you have to focus on.

“If you’re not thinking about the back-end systems work, you won’t be able to get to some of these great things off the ground.”

Acting on what you know about the customers is the mantra at Marriott, said the group’s VP of personalisation, Devin Sung.

“That’s the vision we set forth, and you can easily rally behind it, but how you pull that through the properties is the question,” he said.

“Digital is a way to bring across platform, data and insight. We know we can activate and we’ll do this through digitally augmented touchpoints and channels. But there are key moments across the hotel stay that will be human interface-based. In those situations, it’s a digital to analogue conversion for that insight. It’s straightforward to take an insight and action on an email or app, but it’s trickier when that action needs to be taken by an associate.”

Sung pointed out Marriott’s high-end Ritz Carlton brand is focused on personalisation and uses highly trained staff to achieve its ends. The challenge is how to take that and make it scalable.

“We’re looking at ways to layer in activations – some are pure digital, some are digitally augmented, such as providing that associate with insight, then some are pure in-person.”

For Tully, the answer to getting all of these interactions right lies is recognising that it’s the one customer.

“We live in a very matrix organisation and a world that’s grey. But we’re all working towards same vision,” she said. “We have a single-minded approach to customer data, make sure staff have access to that data, and can do those same things.”

For Goldstein, successful change management process is key, and he noted Wyndham is working to adjust different aspects of the organisation to put more emphasis on the customer. This includes creating governance boards across different departments, to ensure teams talk regularly about what’s happening in business units and what needs to change.

The hotel chain has also recently created a program across its three business units (vacation ownership, destination and hotels), labelled ‘blue thread’, focused on the customer journey through different events of their life.

“This has raised it as a senior leadership discussion. It’s not just about technology anymore, every conversation talks about how we’re going to make changes, whether it’s organisational or people changes,” he explained. “The rubber hits the road when compensation is at risk, and we have created goal sharing in order to accomplish some things within the world of digital and personalisation, and driving loyalty of the customer.

“Once you have that shared goal, that also changes behaviour.”

Read more of our coverage on Qantas:

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Adobe.

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