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2018 Travel Technology Trends

The annual Phocuswright Conference took place last month and for travel, tourism, and hospitality industry professionals, the show serves as a bellwether for tech trends across all key travel segments. We conducted a post-show interview with Phocuswright research analyst, Alice Jong, to discuss the hot topics and opportunities for 2018 that created buzz at the show.

WATCH our video interview with Alice Jong, Phocuswright research analyst

ExpertFlyer: Give us a high-level description of what Phocuswright is and the purpose of the conference?

Alice Jong: We are a travel market research company and we focus on anything related to travel distribution and technology. The U.S. conference is our largest event where we gather the biggest ideas and the biggest opinions in the travel industry, and present them on stage to share trends and things to watch out for. We cover all the segments in travel … it’s a great opportunity for attendees to not only gain knowledge about what’s happening in the travel industry, technology and innovation, but also make connections with the biggest minds in this space.

EF: There were a number of highlights that came out of the show, one of which was the popularity of tours and activities and its impact on search and booking technology. How is this segment evolving?

AJ: It’s actually a big study that I worked on directly so I’m quite passionate about this segment. Essentially, so much of tours and activities — the things that you do once you’re in the destination — whether it’s going on a walking tour or participating in a cooking class or going scuba diving, much of that is still transacted offline. Travelers tend to book these activities very last minute in destination – with many actually walking up to the ticket booth or into the shop to purchase the experience in person. But there’s been a big shift where all of this is moving online now. So, think about how hotels and airlines are online.  You can easily compare options, whether it’s on a metasearch site or on an OTA like Expedia. That’s starting to happen for tours and activities now. Bike tours were among the first to do this in a big way, but in recent years, many more startups are getting on board, so platforms like “Get Your Guide” are surfacing and they’re aggregating all these activities that you can do and putting them online where travelers can easily research activities by category and then book them from a computer or mobile device.

Many of these activities and experiences tend to be operated by small “Mom and Pop” shops, but there are new technology platforms now that are being created that cater to these smaller players enabling them to basically digitize their inventory. So, once the supply is digitized, then the consumer can also book it digitally and it’s really gaining momentum, such that even the biggest travel players are now seeing a lot of potential in the tours and activities space.

The first time we did a study related to activities was back in around 2011, so just over six years ago and around that time the biggest players were lukewarm about tours and activities. Since then, brands like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and Booking.com, are all looking to add tours and activities into their online platform.  As a result, it’s going to be easier for travelers to research activities they are interested in, compare what they want to do and then book it directly online. With more than 80% of the activities marketplace still offline, this category is expected to grow quickly based on the demands of travelers and their online search and booking expectations.

EF: What are some of the sites that are fulfilling this travel niche search now?

AJ: Some of the biggest or well-known brands, Expedia, has a local expert now and they’ve actually integrated that into their mobile platform, as well. Airbnb launched Experiences last year, so more focus on that local experience in the destination. TripAdvisor, after acquiring Viator, one of the largest online tours and activities booking agencies, started integrating bookable content onto TripAdvisor. So, travelers may now directly book those activities from TripAdvisor. Some of the other examples are Get Your Guide, which is one of the larger global platforms, and others with a regional spin, like Newman Tours specializing in Asia, as well as Klook, and Be My Guest. In India, you have options, like Make My Trip and Clear Trip. There is a good deal starting regionally, which indicates a lot of opportunities to grow. It’s very exciting to see where these players are going to take this and keep growing the inventory.

EF: There was some talk about the impact of artificial intelligence and voice recognition associated with travel search and sourcing. What’s on the horizon?

AJ: This technology is still quite new. We’re in our infancy with this and many of the biggest online players are exploring possibilities and options. They’re looking at chat, they’re looking at voice, and they’re looking to see how they combine a mix of A.I. chatbox with human interaction to find that right balance. Many of them are analyzing and testing what they can do with customer service inquiries. Expedia has been experimenting with Facebook Messenger and earlier this year they rolled out a Facebook Messenger booking capability for Hotels.com. Kayak has been looking at Alexa capabilities, so they’re all dabbling and they’re trying to see what the possibilities are, but so far what we are hearing from them is it’s still new and they are exploring the early stage capabilities.

Over in Asia, China’s biggest OTA, Ctrip, is using A.I. customer service chatbox to handle many of their customer inquiries. Make My Trip in India also rolled out chat-based online booking for their packaging business. So, we see different players exploring different routes but ultimately it’s like finding that right balance that makes things easier and more personalized for the customer.

We saw in our travel technology survey that in the U.S. about half of online travelers now use some kind of voice assistant in their everyday life. In terms of travel though, it’s most advantageous future usage is still developing. Companies are looking at opportunities starting with customer service for now and they’re considering how the technology will play out in terms of shopping and booking stages.

EF: Let’s talk about loyalty and loyalty programs. It was interesting to see some data on customer loyalty and membership programs. According to your analysis, membership to a loyalty program doesn’t necessarily mean a customer is all that loyal. What do you think is coming down the pike in terms of airline and hotel rewards programs? Are we ripe for reinvention in this space?

AJ: Well, for both air and hotels in general, we’re definitely seeing that loyalty programs don’t mean loyalty necessarily. And what we’ve seen in our studies is that loyalty programs aren’t deal-makers for the traveler either. Overall, they aren’t making their final booking decision based on a loyalty program. In fact, for air, we see that the majority of travelers belong to either multiple loyalty programs or none at all. So the share of travelers that belong to just one is the minority. And further to that, we also find that they’re willing to book with an airline outside of their loyalty program if it means a better price or schedule. So that’s what’s really driving those purchases. On top of that, air travelers’ loyalty greatly depends on their home base location. If you’re based in Atlanta, Delta’s probably going to be your preferred airline. So much of it is based on these variables that aren’t necessarily about loyalty. It’s about the commodity and what’s available and what’s most convenient and priced right for your budget.

It’s been fascinating to see how Airbnb has been able to build this brand affinity with its user base where people keep coming back and reusing again and again – and they don’t have an official loyalty program. With the airlines, especially in the U.S., there are a set number of carriers you can fly on. If there’s the option of a $100 flight versus a $600 flight and the schedule’s pretty close, you’re probably going to go with the $100 flight rather than trying to get 500 extra points on your frequent flyer program. So, I think for loyalty, what we’re looking for is who is going be able to find a way to differentiate their brand through some kind of deeper connection, not just by offering these perks because the loyalty program and frequent flyer miles are no longer differentiating brands.

Dream of having an entire row to yourself on an economy flight? Here’s how

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Nothing makes us happier than a frequent flyer scoring the best seat in the cabin. So, when we heard that God Save the Points Travel blogger and frequent flyer, Gilbert Ott, recently put ExpertFlyer’s Seat Alert app to the test and scored an entire row to himself, we were brimming with joy!

gilbert-ott via BusinessInsider.com

Gilbert Ott via BusinessInsider.com

Gilbert shared his experiences as a regular Seat Alert app user with BusinessInsider.com.

“A smart flyer (which you clearly are) sees the cabin as a game of musical chairs,” he said. “If the best seat in the house is available immediately — book it. If not, get the next best available seat — and set free alerts on ExpertFlyer for any and all the seats you’d prefer. By doing so, you can keep improving up until final boarding.

“Once everyone else has settled their fate, you can often stand in the boarding line with your app open seeing if final seating assignments have created any opportunities — like an entire row to yourself. It really does happen.”

Read the full post and tips here.

 

Best travel apps you’re missing out on

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

top travel apps

Credit Donkey, a popular credit card comparison website, recently published their list of favorite travel apps.  Spoiler Alert: ExpertFlyer Seat Alerts is one of their top picks along with 70 some odd worthy competitors.

Read the full post here.

 

ExpertFlyer & appPicker’s Top Travel App Picks for 2017

In 2017, there are no more and no fewer topics to discuss when it comes to travel.  We all want to decrease wait times and costs, while increasing comfort, fun, safety, and flexibility.  That’s a tall order requiring time, commitment and research.  It’s no wonder developers are hard at work to help solve this dilemma with just the right app – In fact, there are an estimated 80,000 travel apps on iTunes alone!

As consumers look to simplify their travel experiences, having to vet tens of thousands of apps to make life easier doesn’t seem so easy.  So, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff? We asked app expert, Tiernan Quinn, founder and CEO of appPicker.com, the leading indie iOS app blog on the web.

According to Quinn, there’s so much more than counting downloads when it comes to identifying a truly unique app that fulfills its promise and fills a niche that no one else has conquered. “We get under the hood, and manually test and explore new apps on a daily basis so we can provide a true testament to the app’s performance – which many times is not reflected in an iTunes rating,” says Quinn.

You can view appPicker’s top travel app picks here (Shameless self-promotion: ExpertFlyer Seat Alerts app tops the list!).

WATCH our video interview with Tiernan Quinn, founder and CEO, appPicker.com

Adding to appPicker’s list, we’ve come up with a few other appetizers to snack on that promise to make your travels more bearable – and who knows, maybe even fabulous!

Skip the Line!
Don’t wait in line at top attractions or museums like the Eiffel Tower, Vatican, or the Louvre. Many of the world’s most popular monuments now offer fast-track tickets that let you skip the line and head straight in, leaving you more time to enjoy the experience. You can compare multiple skip-the-line options easily at PlacePass.com. 

Fly Away – Fearlessly
SkyGuru app is designed for the vast international community of air travelers who experience anxiety while flying. It is the brainchild of Alex Gervash, a professional pilot and founder of the Fearless Flying research and treatment center. SkyGuru is the first app that merges mobile technology and professional aviation data to analyze and make predictions on flight processes, guiding passengers through the more anxiety-provoking moments in real time. SkyGuru users have already navigated more than 3,600 flights in over 60 countries around the world.

What’s Fare is Fare
There are more than 100,000 flights each day, and airfares change by the minute. Fareness.com will show round trip fares across 190+ departure dates and many trip lengths to global destinations with one fraction of a second search. Users are shown the soonest/cheapest flight options on a scrollable calendar. iOS app users can download the app here.

You’re Speaking My Language
When it comes to international travel, and booking great accommodation, in particular, it’s an advantage to speak the language of the country you are flying to. Have you tried Lingviny? Ok, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue, but this cool Chrome extension integrates with your Gmail and helps you write emails in any language with the help of professional translators.

Travel Procrastinators – There’s an App for that
The Last Minute Travel Deals app promises to deliver substantial savings even to last minute Louie’s. The app enables travelers to book and save up to 60% on everything from hotels and flights, to car rentals, vacation homes, activities, and transfers, regardless of where you are in the world – either well in advance or the day-of travel.

House, Hut or Hotel?
Travelers who are just looking at hotels are missing out. There are a ton of non-hotel options, such as Airbnb, Couchsurfing, vacation homes, and hostels, so if travelers don’t use a site like AllTheRooms they will miss out on a huge swath of potentially perfect options. And if you’re up to roughing it a bit, here are some sites that allow travelers to stay for free with locals  — often the best way to experience a foreign culture.

New Airport Social App Aims to Help Traveling and Socially Predisposed Millennials Connect

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

According to a 2015 study of Millennial and Gen X travel habits by Hipmunk, 53% of Millennial and 37% of Gen X travelers are looking to socially connect with fellow passengers.

Ment airport social appMent, a new airport-based social app, is jumping on this opportunity by connecting like-minded travelers in real-time, and thereby, changing the airport experience for young travelers.

Millennials are just five years shy of entering their peak traveling, earning and spending years, yet airports haven’t prepared for the onslaught, according to the Boston Consulting Group. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce, says a 2014 study by Deloitte. Hotels and travel companies are shifting their mentality to capture this emerging generation by creating social lobbies, valued-added amenities and free wifi throughout their properties.

“Airports weren’t designed with people in mind, we were a second thought,” said Rebecca Lima, CEO & Founder of Ment. “I’ve spent countless hours in airports, probably more time than I do at home and I’ve seen how people get through those frequently intolerable airport stays. We are conditioned to socially disconnect from everything and that never sat well with me. That’s why I created Ment: to connect people back to people.”

Millennials are naturally hyper connected and interested in socially connecting to people they are drawn to. Ment offers that unique experience that the younger generation craves. “There is something magical about meeting people while traveling without underlying romantic innuendos that other apps project,” said Lima.

Ment is incredibly easy to use. The user checks in to their departure or layover at the airport and the app takes care of the rest. The app displays a live feed of other Ment users in your airport. Once the user has found someone they’re interested in connecting with, they can chat via the app. Within a matter of minutes, Ment users can connect and meet up.

Launching in early July for iPhone, Lima hopes that Ment will change the status quo of airports. Her goal with Ment is to make air travel social. “My vision is that one day people will actually enjoy their airport experience because of Ment.”