This article was originally published on the Contagious website.
OMD’s Jean-Paul Edwards and Omnicom Media Group’s Phil Rowley were at Most Contagious to explain how a series of technology-enabled ‘booster shots’ will drive consumer confidence and inspire travellers to take to the air once more.
Advances in online booking technology had resulted in the decline of the high street travel agent before the pandemic. But as the industry attempts to recover from its worst crisis in living memory, artificial intelligence is likely to define travel for the next decade, according to Rowley, head of futures at Omnicom Media Group UK. ‘Simply resuming old business models with not suffice and AI is set to revolutionize the industry,’ he said.
“Brands will need to focus on niche groups with volatile need states and changing attitudes to risk.” – Jean-Paul Edwards, OMD
The confidence to book
Technology is needed to inspire confidence in people to act on their desire to travel, added Edwards, chief product development officer at OMD, EMEA, pointing to a 48% increase in travel searches the week that the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was announced.
Edwards believes that China is already showing the way for this tech-driven road to recovery. Chinese tourists have been engaging in ‘cloud tourism’ prior to booking domestic trips, he said, noting the 5.8 million online visitors to a virtual garden museum in Suzhou, which helped to drive huge numbers of ticket sales when the institution re-opened its doors. Meanwhile, a live-streamed tour of the Atlantis Sanya in southern China resulted in $1.15m worth of bookings for the hotel. Personalised technology like real-time maps enable visitors to book and choose travel destinations while avoiding areas with spiking coronavirus cases and pollution.
Edwards stressed that a more agile approach to travel marketing will be required in the post-Covid travel landscape. Better targeted ads driven by ‘machine-learning based propensity and decisioning systems’ will be used to drive conversion and bookings. ‘Expensive mass marketing campaigns are unlikely to work in the short term,’ said Edwards. ‘Instead, brands will need to focus on niche groups with volatile need states and changing attitudes to risk.’
Democratised personal services
Rowley said AI digital assistants will put an end to consumers scrolling through endless results on booking sites, and comparing flight times and room rates. In a few years, he said, travellers will be able to get complete and comprehensive travel itineraries generated by AI resulting in, ‘end to end planning and delivery without the need for human intervention – a bit like the ultimate personalised package tour,’ he said.
Intelligent assistants will help travellers reduce friction and avoid overcrowded locations. These digital concierges, said Rowley, will be able to book you everything from ‘sumo tickets in Japan to cigar factory tours in Cuba, and advanced machine vision will help read and translate foreign languages in real time.’ These digital travel helpers will also likely be located in airports, hotels and key tourist destinations – not just on our phones – which could bring about a new world of branded touchpoints, he said.
The birth of new hotspots
The technology boom will mean that lesser-known travel destinations will be able to attract more visitors. Technology will remove many of the barriers to visiting places once considered inaccessible because of location, language and culture. This might result in the birth of new hotspots in countries that were previously overlooked by tourists – such as conflict zones or areas of natural disaster that will be able to accelerate their attractiveness, helping them on road to recovery.
To wrap up, both Edwards and Rowley agreed that the travel sector has a unique set of characteristics that make it particularly suited to innovation. Indeed, the amount of data, consumer attention and growing value makes travel likely to be the ‘petri dish of innovation in marketing through the 2020s.’