Solving travel’s biggest problems with a digital foundation.

The travel industry is at a crossroads. 

A hundred years ago, the concierges of the best luxury hotels in Paris met to exchange insights on how to serve their clientele with personalised, top-notch experiences. By collaborating, trading tips and gathering information about their guests’ preferences, they solved a problem that many travel brands still struggle with today.

These concierges knew the answer was focusing on the customer, on the relationship, on delivering that personalised touch that made them indispensable. And the good news is that this answer is still the same today. But now, the world is a lot more complicated.

Today, the travel industry is huge. The Adobe Digital Insights predicts that US travellers will spend up to US$297.13 billion this year and since the introduction of the Internet, smartphones and social media, travel has become incredibly complex. For example, according to travel and technology company Amadeus, “the average traveller searches nearly 50 times online, makes 38 site visits, reads a dozen reviews, researches for 15 weeks.”

Each of these millions of interactions starts with one person, waiting for you to delight them. But it’s impossible to deliver an exceptional customer experience to every one of those individuals without a solid digital foundation.

Thus, travel companies are at a critical crossroads: They can build a digital foundation that allows them to understand and exceed the expectations of each customer or they can miss the proverbial boat while other brands press forward.

David Chang portrait

“You can’t afford to be bogged down in tying multiple marketing solutions together. You require a complete digital foundation that enables you to assemble experiences on the fly, without compromising on security or privacy.”

David Chang
a global vice president, Cognizant


Woman on phone sitting on ledge looking at ocean.

Like any journey, charting digital experiences starts with a map.

The best way to understand the need for a strong digital foundation is to look at the customer journey. In travel, this journey goes well beyond the moment of booking. It’s everything leading up to the trip, during the trip and even after the trip. And to be successful, you need to see every possible opportunity for interaction and engagement.

Chris Nguyen portrait

“If booking was a great experience, but check-in wasn’t, then what have you accomplished?”

Chris Nguyen
group product marketing manager, Adobe


Full mastery over the customer journey doesn’t just happen. Yet many brands aren’t approaching their own customers’ journeys or using tools that could offer valuable perspective.

Knowing there’s no time to waste, many organisations try stitching together different content, datasets, departments and methodologies. And many, looking to stretch their budget, attempt a do-it-yourself approach, building only what they think they’ll need in the near future.

But a digital foundation serves experience brands best if it’s built from the ground up so every component works together seamlessly: analytics-based insights, content management, cross-channel delivery and a unified interface. A patchwork system just won’t cut it in the long term.

And investing in this foundation with an eye to its effect on the customer journey pays off.

“Travel stress is introduced by unknowns,” says Devin Sung, VP of personalisation at Marriott. “And it’s our job to solve it.” So Marriott dug deep in travel customer data, mapping information far beyond hotel stays—examining web searches, flight bookings, car rentals, room service and other information that could lend itself to creating “predictable data points” for each guest.

By preloading these data points onto its digital platform, Marriott was able to chart its customer experiences and arrive at moments of delight, relief and surprise. Simple gestures such as serving black coffee to a customer who always takes it black or offering early check-in to a guest who always takes a red-eye, add up to beautiful experiences in the travel customer’s journey.

Marriott’s success reflects the fact that guests’ every digital interaction creates data that can then be used to deliver experiences, often via those same digital devices.

 

Mobile touchpoints in a travel day.

Sun icon
A day in the life of a person using their mobile device and computer illustrated with icons.
moon icon
man waiting at airport with suitcase

Content is the king of everywhere.

Whatever the nature of your customers’ journey and its accompanying pain points, one rule is constant: Make their experience better. Their planning process should be easier, their booking should be a breeze, mobile tools should enhance their journey and their ongoing relationship with your brand should grow stronger with every interaction.

Mobile tools should enhance their journey and their ongoing relationship with your brand should grow stronger with every interaction.

Content is a huge part of delivering on these expectations. And with a strong digital foundation, you can exceed them.

For example, customers expect up to date, consistently branded photo and video assets across all of a brand’s channels. Brands that seamlessly deliver helpful content reinforce today’s consumer expectation that digital will make their lives easier.

Celebrity Cruises realised through journey mapping that not only do many of its travellers do their planning on tablets, but they also seek in-depth research once they’ve chosen destinations of interest. So the company developed destination-specific apps on a unified platform, showcasing tantalising photos, immersive videos, ship diagrams and excursion details so rich that users could almost feel the sand between their toes. These apps helped customers get excited about their trip and start enjoying it long before they set foot onboard.

Tina Alexander portrait

“The tactile process of touching and swiping and the immersive experience of video and high-quality imagery make [these apps] a more engaging, entertainment-focused encounter than a website or printed brochure.”

Tina Alexander
Head of web & digital, Celebrity Cruises

 

A streamlined content management system doesn’t have to rely on internally generated content, either. Tourism Australia attracted tourists to its site by aggregating content tagged with #SeeAustralia. Thus a live feed of authentic, beautiful posts and images populated their site, leading to a 30 per cent rise in site engagement and a 77 per cent increase in leads.


man in beanie on mobile device in the wilderness

Personalisation goes the distance.

“The kind of human connection that drives lasting value is exactly what technology is ideally suited to deliver and is ultimately destined to do,” says John Marshall, chief strategy and innovation officer at Lippincott, a New York-based creative consultancy. “Listening more, remembering better, knowing more deeply. Long-term, tech’s promise isn’t efficiency—it’s actually intimacy. Once that is achieved, today’s functional advantage will be accompanied and eclipsed by tomorrow’s lasting emotional bonds.”

With a unified digital platform, travel brands can have fun charting new territories in the personalised experience realm. For example, Marriott is finding ways on its app to personalise content—and the experience it leads to—based on a customer’s profile, habits and the stage of their trip. Fitness gurus will hear about a hotel’s gym facilities, while those on a working trip can order room service at their conference table. With a unified digital platform, content and information are easy to customise and deliver at any stage.

George Corbin portrait

“Smart devices are now everyone’s indispensable travel companion, as more and more travellers increasingly expect to have their needs satisfied using their mobile phone.”

George Corbin
Senior Vice President of digital, Marriott


And while social media is well known as a powerful tool to personalise and target marketing efforts, travel brands have a lot of opportunities to catch up with the trend. According to marketing agencies Amp and Blitz, an impressive 59 per cent of people follow travel brands on social media in an ongoing pursuit of travel inspiration. Which means the door is open for communication, engagement, reviews and targeted posts that matter to exactly the people who are seeing them in their news feeds. User-generated content also has a prominent place on the social stage—not only is it plentiful, but it has a trustworthy and authentic feel and is of interest to fellow posters.

Social doesn’t have to be a one-sided conversation, says Eddie Gonzalez, director of marketing strategy and analysis for SapientNitro. Rather, it’s the opportunity to nurture a relationship. Brands can anticipate and create opportunities for inspiration, like a share-worthy photo op. “This natural inspiration is more valuable when it comes from a friend, instead of being pushed out by a brand,” Gonzalez says. Thoughtful touches like “selfie spots” on a cruise ship or an inexpensive social-sharing wireless package for passengers can give customers a way to share their experiences—through their own personal lens.

Only with a strong digital foundation can travel brands harness the potential of social platforms to personalise these digital dialogues and engage with their customers. With the right tools, these brands can target outbound efforts, cultivate relationships from inbound posts and messages and curate user-generated content that followers and friends will trust.


Plane on tarmac being loaded

It takes a new direction to solve an age-old problem.

When those concierges met a hundred years ago, they could never have guessed the ways the travel industry would change—or the ways it would stay the same. More than ever, travel brands today need to understand their customers’ needs and deliver experiences that surpass their wildest expectations.

By building thoughtful digital foundations with an eye to creating these exceptional, moment-to-moment travel experiences, brands can forge lasting human connections with their customers. And they can find brilliant everyday ways to infuse comfort, convenience and contentment into their customers’ travels.


 

“Online Travel Industry: Trends, Performance and Outlook,” Adobe Digital Insights, April 2017.

“Celebrity Cruises: Connecting with Today’s Travellers,” Adobe Customer Story, February 2014.

Chris Nguyen, “You Can Build Your Digital Foundation in Stages—But You Must Build It!” Adobe Digital Marketing Blog, August 2016.

Chris Nguyen, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Versus Nirvana: How Your Digital Foundation Impacts Competitive Advantage,” Adobe Digital Marketing Blog, December 2016.

Chris Nguyen, personal interview, March 2017.

“Customer Centricity and the Journey to Personalisation,” Adobe Summit Super Session 5, Travel Digital Transformation, 2016.

David Chang, quoted in “The Blueprint Redefined. Building the Experience-Based Digital Foundation,” Adobe 2016.

Eddie Gonzalez, personal interview, December 2016.

Jacques Bughin, Laura LaBerge and Anette Melbye, “The Case for Digital Reinvention,” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2017.

John Marshall and Dan Clay, “Don’t Just Digitise—Humanise,” CMO.com, August 2016.

Michael Mish, “Targeting Moments of Need in the New Travel Landscape,” Amp and Blitz, 2016.

“Nearly Three Quarters of Americans Are Expected to Travel This Holiday Season, According to Orbitz Insider Index,” Nasdaq GlobalNewswire, October 2016.

Ted Schadler, “Your Digital Experience Technology Strategy Starts With a Customer Journey Map,” Forrester, 30 December 2016.

“Tourism Australia, Through Travellers’ Eyes,” Adobe Customer Story, November 2016.


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