Gulf-based travel and hospitality companies that use disruptive technologies to boost personalisation and remove friction for customers are likely to become future market leaders, according to experts speaking at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2019.
In a panel discussion titled ‘The Big Picture – Who Will Sell Travel Best in the Future?’, which took place on ATM’s Global Stage, representatives from Booking.com, Sabre Corporation, Google, Facebook and Emirates explored the potential benefits and pitfalls of technology implementation in the Gulf’s tourism sector.
While innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and personalisation technology have the potential to boost efficiency across the industry, panellists emphasised that operators should always consider how new applications are likely to impact the customer experience.
Fouad Talaat, Regional Manager of Partner Services – MEA, Booking.com, said: “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.
“We think of ourselves as a customer-first AI company. This means that the application of any new technology is done to enhance the experience for our customers. We don’t experiment with emerging technologies for the sake of it. If an innovation doesn’t take friction away, we don’t invest in it.”
Airports and airlines increased investments in information technology (IT) from 5.6 per cent in 2017 to 7.5 per cent in 2018, accounting for an overall investment of USD 30 billion. By implementing IoT technology to optimise flight itineraries, the industry could save the same amount in fuel savings alone over the next 15 years, according to research conducted by Colliers on behalf of ATM 2019.
In addition to efficiency savings, panellists noted that the GCC’s tourism industry must identify areas in which disruptive technologies can be implemented to ensure a seamless customer experience.
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. Expectations are constantly changing. The moment a company solves a friction-related problem, customers’ expectations are reset.
“For example, if I want the most personal experience possible, it’s probably going to be through WhatsApp or Facebook. We should be able to reserve flights, get our boarding passes and book accommodation through WhatsApp or Facebook directly […] These platforms should be your personal concierge for multiple things in life, and travel is certainly one of those areas.”
The comprehensive implementation of personalisation technology could also lead to significant benefits for the Middle East’s hotel industry, according to Colliers, increasing revenues by more than 10 per cent and reducing costs by more than 15 per cent.
Ben Vinod, Senior VP and Chief Scientist, Sabre Corporation, said: “We live in an AI, machine learning-driven landscape, so a key focus for our sector is intelligent retailing. 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.
“One example is that you don’t always have to show the lowest price on your website. You may want to show the best price based on the customer’s preferences. Segmentation is important because it allows you to deliver relevant content to a portion of the population. We also see a need for one-to-one personalisation. We want to be able to give you a tailored response that is meaningful to you – as a segment of one.”
Running until Wednesday, 1 May, ATM 2019 will see more than 2,500 exhibitors showcase their products and services at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). Viewed by industry professionals as a barometer for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) tourism sector, last year’s edition of ATM welcomed 39,000 people, representing the largest exhibition in the history of the show.