Nicholas Hall's Photo
Nicholas Hall

Opinions: 

Travel Tech

Mobile

The most significant trend that is bigger than anything else in the travel industry is mobile. And in particular social media on mobile. The reason I start with this is that it is encompassing everything else. So other trends right now happen because of mobile, and fundamentally feed into it.

The way in which people communicate today is dramatically different from the way that they communicated just five years ago. We have known for quite a while that social media is important for word of mouth online with regard to influence, reputation and decision-making. But what is very significant is that this is now happening with relation to mobile devices, where we are seeing lots of innovation and new things developing as a result of mobile platforms alone.

This is important because we used to look at mobile as something that was impacting people mostly during in-trip activities of the travel cycle. But as mobiles have developed and smartphones have become part of everyday life, mobile is now important not just in the destination but at the very beginning, when the tourists develop that initial interest and awareness. And this remains the case right through to the very end, where they share their experiences. Even mobile bookings have now experienced a surge in interest, and there have been great successes for mobile in booking hotels, to cite one example.

So mobile is huge and it is really important that we understand how people are using their mobiles. Not to suggest that people use mobiles exclusively. The majority of people look at their mobiles and then book on desktops and go between devices, but mobiles are just becoming more and more personal. Sharing and reading content from friends, watching television or other broadcast media on smartphones are now common mobile experiences. People frequently research and talk about what they watch on TV on their mobiles, and this is just another way that the platform is changing the way that established industries operate.

Real-Time Marketing

This leads to my second digital trend which is real-time marketing. This is using something that is happening right here and now, or at a specific moment, and absolutely maximising the possible media value from it. It is about reacting quickly and immediately to something that people are talking about. And, of course, you can monitor conversations particularly effectively on Twitter.

And one big trend is that people watch TV and communicate about it on social media, such as if there is a really big scene in a show that everybody is watching this is an opportunity for anybody who can relate to that to join in the conversation online. So any destination could run a big campaign about, for example, discovering the murder mysteries of Denmark to coincide with a programme on this topic, and then promote the content through advertising during and in between all the conversations. That’s what real-time marketing is; a really brilliant opportunity for any brand – tourism or otherwise - to jump into, and I think we will see some very innovative examples in this field.

Wearables and Nearables

Another big trend is what I would call "wearables and nearables". The key aspect of this is that technology is becoming increasingly invisible. Tech is becoming an increasing part of our surroundings and environment, and central to everything we do.

We obviously know about things like the Apple Watch and are assessing how this will change things in the travel industry. We are also becoming increasingly aware of things like iBeacons, which send a signal to people's smartphones. Users would then have an appropriate app installed that can react with the iBeacon system, and then it is possible to push information based on where people are located. So if I walk through a door, for example, with an attached iBeacon, it can send me a message or an offer and other similar information. It can even notify the receptionist in the hotel that I'm arriving.

For the hospitality and travel industry, this is a digital trend that can enable a really refined level of service to be delivered, merely by the downloading of an app and installing the attendant technology in your building or attraction. All this will provide a really high quality level of service, and research shows that people are happy to forego some of their privacy if it improves their experience. So it's up to businesses to get the balance right and to make sure that they are offering their customers something they really want. This technology should be used to make customers happy and thus provide them with an incentive to revisit.

Trends & Tourism Industry

What should the tourism industry do in general to cope with these digital trends? At the moment, the industry focuses a lot on training and there is always the need for that. But there is also increasingly a need for advocacy, leadership, and for more creative and innovative approaches to supporting the sort of things that are discussed within this opinion piece.

First of all, people need to think very differently to how people have thought in the past. We still need to train people how to work with social media and related tech, but there is a much bigger requirement to ensure that the industry is keeping up with digital trends. That they are constantly aware of what others are doing. That they are learning through benchmarking and through best-practices. And that they are closely observing what their competitors are doing, and what's happening in other countries and within other markets. And learning much more through leadership.

The tourism industry, whether it’s the government or anybody else, or all of them combined, can do great things. For instance, a Hackathon is a fairly recent concept that involves an event for lots of programmers who sit in a room, work together and collectively construct some kind of technical solution. They do this for credibility and for a price. They are not paid to be there but may win a price if they concoct the best solution.

So the tourism industry could, for example, state that they want to develop the most innovative app for hospitality, and a company interested in this such as Expedia, could give a price of 5,000 euros and thus help to stimulate innovation within its industry.

We also have developed Thinkatons where businesses come together and think collectively about what creative ideas they can carry out using the resources that they already have. Using social media, mobiles and other related technologies. How they can be creative themselves instead of paying an agent to come up with the ideas for them. This is always very successful. Sometimes we show them particularly effective and successful case studies and then ask them to come up with a great campaign to promote their businesses or destinations and center them around a hashtag. When we do this we see really brilliant ideas being developed. And if nothing else it helps them to think about what could be done and get excited about what they are doing. And at the very best they might actually decide to implement the idea.

Destination Best Practices

The Netherlands performs very well, especially with social media and with the adoption of new technology. They were one of the first and fastest countries to really embrace tablet devices, and are one of the most prominent markets using Twitter. In general the Nordic countries are really embracing creative media. In Scandinavia we see a huge interest in Instagram and other image and video-based media. This is something that doesn't just interest Scandinavian consumers, but is actually part of the identity and image of most destinations there, which is a kind of unique selling point.

The UK is always early to adopt new technology often trialling new things as they are initially released, and they usually find good ways of commercialising new things that come out - contactless and mobile payment is already widely adopted among consumers.

And the US is always an interesting market. It is huge and leads the way in a lot of things. The metropolitan areas are the equivalent of cities such as London or Copenhagen, which are always at the forefront of new technology. And, of course, California is just a hotbed of innovation. So a lot of the traveltechnology companies are emerging from California. Airbnb is an example of something coming out of California that has really gained traction rapidly.

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