The beginning of the New Year is the perfect time to take a serious look at your travel technology; the holiday travel rush is over, the staff is back from holiday, a preliminary view of 2015 results is coming into focus and planning for 2016 is being finalized.
This look must be a serious one because: technology plays an increasingly important role in differentiating products and services within the travel marketplace; implementing new technology can be disruptive; and correctly evaluating an existing travel system along with other choices requires time and a sound process.
This look must also be focused and prioritized because new technology can be highly distracting. New products or features wouldn’t exist if they couldn’t promise improvement over prior capabilities, so simply possessing apparent advantages isn’t sufficient to justify a long discovery and evaluation process.
Instead, the focus should fall on three fundamental areas:
Costs: did your company’s technology play a significant role in lowering operational costs during 2015? It can be easy to overlook or minimize a requirement for software systems to cut operational costs, and also a large mistake. If your technology didn’t cut costs last year, it’s not likely it will in 2016 – and that’s unacceptable.
Performance: did existing travel software systems enable employees to their jobs faster and more effectively? Were operations scalable and flexible, capable of handling more business without hitting bottlenecks or hiring more staff? Were customers offered more products and services; did they experience better travel outcomes than in 2014?
Planning and Decision-Making: did the company’s technology give management the information, analysis and reporting it needed to make effective operational plans for 2014 and stay ahead of the competition with well-informed, timely, decisions?
If your management team can discuss these areas and give an unequivocal “yes” to these questions, then its likely current technology is in good shape for 2016. If a “yes” is qualified and/or peppered with “no’s”, then a serious look at enhancements, upgrades or replacements needs to be done.
Travel Technology Essentials for 2016
Unexpected events and changes in consumer behavior will make 2016 different from what went before it, but many travel industry trends that emerged in 2015 will continue into 2016 – making it possible to anticipate challenges which effective technology can turn into competitive advantages for innovative travel companies.
Travel Process Automation: One of the largest opportunities – and greatest mistakes if neglected – is automating processes which aren’t customer-facing and don’t contribute directly to the customer conversion and revenue growth. For example, back office processes such as accounting; procurement and vendor management are necessary to a travel business but valueless to its customers. Leading travel systems can dramatically reduce costs with travel process automation, enabling travel companies to invest in revenue-enhancing products and services.
Customer Service: This term may have meant handling customer needs and concerns back in 2006, but in 2016 it also encompasses a customer’s travel website experience and mobile capabilities. All travel consumers, but particularly millennials, bring high expectations for online and mobile functionality. Providing a compelling travel website shopping experience is a critical role for your travel company’s technology.
Adaptive Business Models: The successful travel businesses of 2015 used a flexible business model, supported by effective technology, to adapt to ongoing changes in the industry and gain advantages over the competition. 2016 will see more of the same. Innovative companies will use technology to move quickly on opportunities with easily configured booking engines; quick provider integration and inventory management for specialized verticals; travel process automation; and dynamic data models and analytics.
Responsive Sales Channels: In 2016, travel agency technology must support multi-device sales funnel and booking capabilities across mobile, tablet and laptop devices – regardless of platform, browser or operating systems. Travel agency customers will expect a seamless ability to shop, purchase and engage your company with whatever device is most convenient for them.
Big Data & Analytics: Providing a compelling customer experience on a website or throughout the sales funnel is impossible without an understanding of the customer. To know a customer, your travel system must deliver three critical functionalities: a common data model; centralized data repository; and effective, user-friendly analytical tools.
Keep Common Sense Top of Mind
Reviewing an existing travel system and comparing it with other choices calls for a rigorous process, but it also requires using common sense.
For example, the existing system should be evaluated just as stringently as new ones. Unless your company has an active, accountable, policy of training and re-training system users, it’s very possible limitations may be traced to unused or under-used functionality. Any new system must be judged against an incumbent in its fully utilized form. Otherwise it’s very possible your company could buy features it already has – but just isn’t using to full potential.
Spend time talking to the people who handle the customers and those tied to back office and mid-office processes. Just as its common sense to make sure the current system is fully utilized before judging it, it’s also good practice to illuminate any undocumented work-arounds which disguise serious system inadequacies. The people actually doing the work are typically the only ones aware of informal steps taken to make that work go quicker and easier. There could be hidden costs that will give greater urgency to finding better technology.
Maintain a strategic perspective throughout the process. For example, in the beginning, keep budgets out of the criteria and maintain attention on inventorying problems and opportunities. While budgets are a reality, prices tend to skew judgement by outlay rather than by benefit. Disciplining judgement by a filter of “wants” versus “needs” provides a better chance the final, non-prioritized, list of technology options will finally put the budget in play with fully justified options.