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Derek Walter rounds up Day 1 of the San Francisco Summit where the talk of the town has focused on innovation for a mobile and digital world

Creating the ideal travel experience requires both a radical devotion to technological innovation and a reliance on traditional, shared interactions that so many travellers are after.

This balancing act is a challenge, with swift changes happening all the time in technology and customer expectations. But there was plenty of practical advice and industry expertise for attendees of the EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit with executives from companies sharing their advice on how brands can stand out in a digital and mobile world.

Leading off the keynote was Dan Christian, the Chief Digital Officer of The Travel Corporation. In rapid-fire points he emphasised that the industry can’t rely on certain practices remaining successful over the long-term.

The key for us is to make sure we’re driving business and staying relevant in this digital space

Dan Christian, the Chief Digital Officer of The Travel Corporation

“The key for us is to make sure we’re driving business and staying relevant in this digital space. How do we make ourselves easier to do business with? Continuous innovation works better in theory than in practice. There’s no finish line anymore. The reality is we need to be driving continuous innovation through our teams,” he said.

(More views from Christian in Guided tours: our time has come).

Staying nimble in a fast-moving market

The rapid evolution of the travel industry is evident with the evolution of the company Lonely Planet. Like any publisher, the company has had to transition into a digital and mobile era. So much so that the current CEO, Daniel Houghton, said he doesn’t view the company purely as a trade guide publisher, despite its history.

“You may go that doesn't make sense, but we've never looked at this business as a print vs digital thing. We'd rather people get into our ecosystem, love the brand, and experience the brand through all those channels,” he said.

When it comes to optimising your brand experience for travellers, each member of the duo took a slightly different approach. Christian placed heavy emphasis on reading the data to drive experiences, especially in the context of a company that is managing multiple brands that tailor to slightly different approaches.

Lonely Planet and other brands could also rely on more traditional modes of serving up travel information

Daniel Houghton, CEO, Lonely Planet

While acknowledging the value of data, Houghton said that Lonely Planet and other brands could also rely on more traditional modes of serving up travel information. Why not, for example, “ask someone where they’ve been and go there and explore it on behalf of all people travelling”.

(See more from Daniel Houghton in Lonely Planet: still thriving after all these years).

Creating the best experience

One of the many themes throughout the day was how to make a company’s digital offerings attractive and distinct. Hilton has found success in turning its mobile apps into destinations that give the customer a lot more information than they’d find in the past.

Dana Goldstein Shefsky, Director of Digital Product Innovation, Hilton Worldwide, showed off how customers can select their room, chat with hotel staff, and even use their smartphone as a room key. She recommended that travel brands think about how digital experiences can supplement the real-world travel experience and find ways to delight customers.

“We want to bridge the physical and digital divide with them,” she said. “We teach our team to be well versed so they know how to complement the digital guest experience with the right tools.”

Such digital connections give brands a lot of different touch points, particularly with mobile apps. The challenge is determining how much information is too much, and the point at which push notifications and data can become useful or excessive.

Some of the early personalisation efforts did both scare and annoy people

Diaz Neamoney, CEO of Jivox, and EyeforTravel sponsor, said that it comes down to how a company reads data. The analytics can be interpreted to create an experience that hits the right point of being useful without crossing over into being too creepy.

(Find out more about how the industry is using data & analytics the State of Data and Analytics in Travel 2017).

“Some of the early personalisation efforts did both scare and annoy people,” he said. “But they were annoying because the products were ones where customers had already purchased that product, but scary where they were targeting something very specific that wasn’t all that useful.”

Diving more deeply into the possibilities with data and personalisation will be a feature of day two of the San Francisco conference. Forthcoming technology like artificial intelligence and innovative startup ideas will be among the featured events. Watch out for that round up later in the week.

Missed the San Francisco event? Why not join us in London next week for EyeforTravel Europe 2017

EyeforTravel Europe 2017

May 2017, London

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