How hospitality can thrive in the digital age

18 May 2016
How hospitality can thrive in the digital age

Digital summit** speaker Peter Firth says hospitality businesses must offer the modern traveller compelling experiences through technology.

If you've ever used Google Maps to find your way to a restaurant hidden deep in the alcoves of Florence, or turned your 3G on to hail an Uber in downtown Mumbai, you'll understand how crucial technology is to the world of travel and hospitality. Increasingly the smartphone is the means through which we negotiate the world around us. If you don't believe me, ask any urbanite for directions and see what happens.

Technology is permeating our lives more than ever, with half of the world's population expected to be using mobile devices to access the internet by 2020, according to GSMA Intelligence. This represents a huge opportunity for travel and hospitality companies who are willing to innovate, and within this there are two watch words for brands eager to create great experiences and gain new customers: convenient and compelling.

The mindset of the global traveller has changed. Rather than being rooted in place when they travel, more people want to be flexible with their plans, with 42% of travellers worldwide now using smartphones to plan or book their trips on the fly, according to Tripadvisor.

A new raft of services is coming to the market which cater to the convenience-led consumer. Recognising the upsurge in peoples' use of instant chat services, Dutch airline KLM partnered with Facebook's Messenger app to provide purchase confirmation, flight status updates and digital boarding passes through a chat thread on the app. Users can also interact with KLM's customer service team on Messenger. If nothing else, this move shows that the most convenient solution is often the simplest.

As well as convenience, people are looking for compelling experiences, with the modern traveller now wishing to be instantly immersed in the unexplored culture that they find themselves in, and a number of brands are trying to deliver this experience.

As everyone knows, you don't get to really know a place through standard tours and city guides - it's only when you befriend a bartender or get invited in for dinner with a local family that you start to learn about the area. However, Icelandair believes the best way to learn about a place is spending a stopover with one of its employees. Staff from Icelandair are offering to show passengers their favourite spots in the country for a day, to help them get the most out of their stay. Even Icelandair CEO Birkir Hólm Gudnason has volunteered to buddy with a traveller from the Americas or Europe.

If spending 24 hours or more in the sole company of an Icelandic baggage handler doesn't sound appealing, there is Airbnb's pilot scheme, Journeys. The new initiative invites guests to sign up online to trips curated by their hosts, taking them to areas that they wouldn't see while riding on an open-top bus.

Technology is impacting our lives in ever less predictable ways. By remaining nimble and recognising consumer habits as opportunities, the world of travel and hospitality has everything to gain from offering the modern traveller convenience and compelling experiences through tech. Here's hoping they remember to look up occasionally.

Peter Firth is the Foresight Editor at futures and innovation agency The Future Laboratory. Firth is also a keynote speaker at The Caterer Digital Summit on 25 May 2016. Tickets are £119. Book now

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