Guest Post: Ditch the pig lipstick and strap on tech to be innovative in 2014

By Travolution
By Travolution
January 13, 2014 01:45 PM GMT

By Jon Pickles, travel technology, CRM and social media consultant

So here we are, it's January 2014, another year gone.

There has been a lot of discussion about travel technology in 2013 and so what have we learned? More importantly, what have we got to look forward to in 2014?

2013 was a year where the travel industry really started to think about social and mobile. There has been a lot of talk about them both, but not so much action.

I guess we could say that travel companies have dabbled with social - namely Facebook and Twitter  - and they have also talked the talk about mobile and the impact of smartphones and tablets on the consumer journey.

We have witnessed the "lipstick on the pig" tinkerings with existing websites, but they still focus on the same old "search, cost and book" user journeys of old.

You know how it goes: When do you want to go? Where do you want to go? How many in your party? Click <search>". Not very inspiring is it?

Another issue here is how this relates to the tablet or mobile experience.

In 2013 I heard many industry professionals (including myself) talking at great length about how "we must provide the savvy consumer with what he/she wants", but I am not seeing any of this in practice.

Today's consumer is a very different person to the consumer a few years ago. Let's face it - with smartphones and tablets the average consumer is no longer technophobic.

With mobile devices and an ever-expanding internet, they have more information in their pockets and on their coffee tables than ever before. No longer do they need to pay a visit to their local travel shop and grab a bunch of brochures to thumb through.

The savvy consumer can research destinations, socialise about experiences and read user reviews on any place they might wish to stay, and they can do all this while on the move.

The consumer is no longer fooled by a well-angled hotel thumbnail or wide-angle bedroom shot.

Today's consumer wants to look around the hotel, see detailed views of bedrooms, the view, hotel facilities and also look at the menu, not just read it - video is even better.

With today's "social user", a travel company needs to be on top of user-generated content, so make sure you have a team constantly checking review sites such as TripAdvisor and also watching conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

Make sure the team communicates with consumers who have posted reviews, or better still analyse what caused a negative comment and do something about it.

A complaint can, if handled well and resolved, be turned into a positive, and this is crucial in the social marketplace.

If you do have a problem, admit it openly on social networks and when resolved socialise that - no one expects things to be perfect; we don't live in a perfect world. Most important of all, socialise with your consumers as often as you can.

For example, when I mention a company in a tweet I expect a retweet or a favourite. If I don't get one I think to myself that company is not watching their social. Get involved with conversations using social.

It's very easy for a business to monitor Facebook and Twitter and there are some great tools that help you react to your customers’ questions and gripes. Be seen to be involved and make your responses transparent. Show people you give a damn.

It's going to be harder for a traditional travel company to maintain its customer base. Equally, it's going to be harder to obtain new customers.

Traditional marketing such as email are still important but fast becoming outdated. Email does need to be part of the "marketing mix" but as a follow-up to other forms of eMarketing.

What I am suggesting here is a good mix of social and personal in your online communications strategy.

You might have to change your staff's working hours so that you can monitor online activity and respond at any time of day or night.

Consumers expect a quick response - they are used to using social and chatting to their friends using messaging and posts, so make sure you can support it.

So, in 2014 what should the savvy tour operator or travel agent be looking at? You should be very aware of emerging technologies and how they might impact your business.

You should try out as many technologies as you can; it's the only way to understand them. Might I suggest setting up an innovations team to work on this? A small, focused team should be allowed to get out there and see what's available.

Send them on technology trips to Google and Apple to find out what's happening. Become early adopters of tech such as Google Glass - don't wait for someone else to do it.

Travel technology companies are all busy improving their legacy systems just to keep up with external forces that are making it very hard to maintain what they already have.

Innovation comes from doing, so go and do.

Take Google Glass - grab a couple of beta units (Google will let you have them if you have the right connections), give them to your innovation team and let them go out to some of your destinations and experience the destination through the Glass camera.

Call it "the Glass experience".

I guarantee within a few weeks you will have enough ideas to do something really innovative.

Over the past year we have seen many more HD videos coming online, mainly facilitated by the wonderful GoPro head cams.

Strap them onto your innovation team and get them to go out there and return with a full set of experience videos.

2014 should be your year for being different. The real differentiators are the innovative ones.

Yes, of course you need to speed up your booking process, sure you need to be competitively priced, but you need to be inspirational and the tools are out there to be just that.

So, here's the thing - start your New Year, start an innovation team and see what happens.

I look forward to hearing your pitch at the Travolution Summit showing what you have achieved at the end of 2014.

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