For more than twenty years, technology evolution has had a tremendous impact on travel industry. The advent of the internet has interconnected travel stakeholders, which enables them to exchange information and conduct transactions in a fast, reliable and cost-effective way. Likewise, cloud computing has given rise to on-line, trusted, marketplaces which bring together supply and demand for travel services all around the globe. Recently, travel services are increasingly delivered through mobile apps and mobile devices, as means of personalizing the content to the preferences of their users. Overall, technology evolution has led to disruptive changes to the business models in the travel industry, while generating billions of dollars of revenue for their operators. In this landscape, let’s explore some of the main pillars and trends of the technology empowered travel ecosystem, starting with a bit of history.
Travel: Historical Timelines
It took several centuries to come up with the travel chain, through the establishment of railway infrastructures, the emergence of commercial aviation and the development of the first hospitality services. The emergence of the first travel agencies (such as ThomasCook) dates back to the 19th century, while many travel services (like AVIS Rent a Car) became available before the mid of the 20th century. Following the formation of the supply chain, the first systems for managing the supply chain emerged, including IT-based systems for the booking and management of flights and accommodation.
The internet and the world wide web then gave rise to the popular and ubiquitous web-based reservation systems such as Expedia (1996), Travelocity(1996) and Orbitz (2001). These sites are still among the main pillars of the travel ecosystem. During the first decade of the new millennium, more on-line services emerged and were accompanied by advanced discovery capabilities. Furthermore, the display and management of ratings and recommendations for the various services completely changed the way in which service providers build trustful relationships with consumers.
Recent Trends: Integration, Trust and Mobility
Nowadays, Travel technology is being driven by the following trends:
- Mobile first services: Travel companies are increasingly realizing that they should invest in mobile applications and related cloud services, as most searches are currently performed through mobile (rather than desktop) devices. This trend is part of the wider mobile-first movement, which we presented in an earlier post.
- End-to-end support: Some of the giant travel sites (like Expedia) introduced many years ago the notion of an integrated end-to-end travel package. They provided the means for booking and managing all services that comprise a trip from flight reservations to accommodation and car rental. This trend is being expanded on with the help of new mobile apps that support the travelers in all aspects of the trip, across the whole travel lifecycle. These include applications for finding fellow travelers, identifying airport lounges, creating excursion and activity programs for a given destination and more. We provide some interesting examples in our list of apps later in this post.
- Integration of different services and ecosystems: Modern travel services tend to integrate with existing giant ecosystems in order to provide more end-to-end services and improve the travel experience. For example, on-line accommodation services like booking.com integrates with on-line car rental services, while the TripAdvisor integrates with restaurant booking systems. This integration is propelled by the availability of open APIs, which facilitate the use of the services of one ecosystem within another on-line service or ecosystem.
- Personalization: Early on-line services were characterized by their advanced search and discovery capabilities. In recent years, the transition from advanced discovery to personalization is taking place. For instance, accommodation search and booking (e.g., through booking.com or Airbnb.com) takes into account our past searches and on-line behavior, our past bookings, our location and language, our travel profile and more. In most cases, personalization is accurate and effective, while using implicitly derived information rather than information requested explicitly by the consumer in a more obtrusive approach.
- Globalization: On-line travel services are currently built with globalization in-mind. Globalization has significant implications on the development of an on-line travel service (e.g., in terms of its internationalization capabilities), as well as on its promotion and marketing (e.g., in terms of SEO processes that should address not only English, but also Russian and Chinese search engines).
Major Travel Sites: The pillars of the Ecosystem
Technological developments are being made as add-ons to the already existing ecosystem of on-line travel services. This ecosystem is dominated by a few large sites not only in terms of traffic and visits, but also in terms of monetary transactions and revenues. Prominent examples of such large sites include:
- Booking, a travel fare aggregator and metasearch engine, which lists currently over 1,200,000 properties in 225 countries. It is a primary one-stop-shop destination for accommodation, as it books over 1 million room nights every day.
- AirBnB, an on-line marketplace for apartment and vacation rentals. It is one of the primary brokers of hospitality services. With annual revenues of more than 1 billion dollars, it is probably the company that makes the most money out of real-estate rentals, without owning a single room. That’s indicative of the impact of travel technology not only on the travel ecosystem, but on the global economy as well.
- TripAdvisor, one of the largest travel sites around the globe, which already has more than 315 million members and over 500 million reviews and opinions of hotels, apartments, restaurants, bars, attractions and other travel-related businesses. It is based on user-generated content and advertising for revenue generation.
- Expedia, a travel website can enables one to book airline tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals, cruises, vacation packages and various attractions and services via the internet or telephone agents. Expedia links to global supply chain management systems for the travel industry, such as the Amadeus transaction processing system.
Mobile Travel Apps: Adding the Innovation and Personalization
On top of the main pillars of the ecosystem (such as the sites listed above), innovators are everyday adding new services that disrupt specific sectors of the travel industry, while providing comfort, opportunities and cost savings for consumers. There is an endless list of travel applications, which support consumers both before and during their trip and use feedback to advertise after the trip. Some indicative example include:
- Applications that provide flight related information, flight status (i.e. the FlightStats app) and airport lounges’ information (i.e. the PriorityPass app).
- Utilities that help you with translations in local language (e.g., Bravolol) and currency exchange rates conversions (e.g., Currency).
- Applications that help you enjoy during your trip, through access to bars, restaurants, coffee shops, museums and local guides that best suit your profile e.g., using AroundMe or even Sidekix which provides navigation tips as well.
The travel industry is without doubt benefitting the most out of technology acceleration. This means increased opportunities and competition for service providers, but also endless possibilities for consumers. It is a definitely a world of opportunity, where you have to be fast, intelligent and growth driven if you want to succeed and the right technology partner can help you get there.