The global travel landscape is rapidly evolving, driven by people and their constantly changing expectations, with the lines between traditional and non-traditional travel retailers blurring.
In a panel discussion titled ‘The Big Picture – Who Will Sell Travel Best in the Future?’, which took place on Arabian Travel Market’s (ATM) Global Stage, representatives from Booking.com, Sabre Corporation, Google, Facebook and Emirates explored the potential benefits and pitfalls of technology implementation in the GCC’s tourism sector.
According to them, Gulf-based travel and hospitality companies that use disruptive technologies – such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, etc. - to boost personalisation and remove friction for customers are likely to become future market leaders.
Terry Kane, head of Travel, Auto, Telco and Financial Services – Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan, Facebook, said: “In travel today, there is still an enormous amount of friction at every step of the journey and mobile solutions can help to remove a lot of this. For example, Uber was not the first taxi company, but it solved the friction/problem of waiting. The moment a company solves a friction-related problem, customers’ expectations are reset.
In fact, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping to deliver more personalised offerings for travellers.
Charbel Sarkis, regional head of Travel and Hospitality, Retail and eCommerce, Mena - Google, said: “AI and machine learning can help travel businesses become more intuitive and assistive, by analysing data and learning consumer habits and preferences; thereby helping them to predict and personalise the travel experience.”
With today’s world offering an AI and machine learning-driven landscape, Ben Vinod, senior vice president and chief scientist, Sabre Corporation, highlighted that businesses today are slowly shifting their focus to ‘intelligent retailing’ to attract customers. “Consumers want to see content that is relevant for them; they don’t want to see generic information. This is something that will change over the next couple of years,” he said.
Another innovation that could greatly benefit the travel sector is blockchain, Vinod points out. “There is opportunity for blockchain in the context of payments, interline ticketing, customer loyalty and fraud protection.”
According to research conducted by Colliers on behalf of ATM, airports and airlines have increased investments in information technology (IT) to optimise flight itineraries, from 5.6 per cent in 2017 to 7.5 per cent in 2018, accounting for an overall investment of $30 billion, which could save the same amount in fuel savings alone over the next 15 years. The Middle East’s hotel industry also stands to benefit from the use of personalisation technology, increasing revenues by more than 10 per cent and reducing costs by more than 15 per cent.
“Some of us think we’re in an era of disruption but I think we’ve passed that already. I think we’re in an era of powerful customers,” said Fouad Talaat, regional manager of Partner Services – MEA, Booking.com.
Looking ahead, voice recognition and personalisation will become the new travel disruptors in the next five years, Sarkis added.
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