With the first month of 2017 nearly behind us, there have been numerous articles about the trends, storylines, and narratives likely to emerge in the travel industry during the next year; in fact, we’ve recently published a handful of entries along similar lines in order to discover where the travel industry is headed and why 2016 was such a critical year across nearly all touch points of the travel landscape. While these forecasts and predictions are interesting in terms of plotting what 2017 might look like, they offer very little in terms practical changes to the industry in specific or targeted areas.
While the idea of booking travel accommodations is most certainly a broad topic, travel bookings are poised to undergo some significant shifts in the coming year, both through the adoption of intelligent search and booking engines, but also in terms of how travel companies position themselves between suppliers and customers in the booking process. In addition, other elements such as the continued growth of mobile technology, emergence of new markets, and further fragmentation of the travel market all add up to some fundamental changes in the way customers complete bookings and travel companies facilitate them.
With this mind, let’s examine 3 ways travel bookings could change in 2017 and the implications of these shifts for the major players in the buying and selling process.
Travel bots and messaging platforms
Last year the travel industry saw, for the first time on a large scale, the introduction of travel bots on messaging platforms in an effort to streamline and enhance communication between travel companies and customers. Hotel chains, airlines, ridesharing services, tour operators, and other players began incorporating bots into their messaging platforms as part of a robust campaign to increase customer engagement and meet a larger consumer base where they spend a majority of their time: online. These bots allow customers to receive instant, real-time information about potential bookings, destinations, activities, and more, and many industry experts believe the use of these bots to help travelers complete bookings will spike during 2017 and beyond.
This means travel companies may have to rethink how they communicate and engage with customers and the costs associated thereof. For customers, this means a faster, higher degree of service without necessarily sacrificing the personal touch of working with another individual.
Move toward direct bookings
In recent years, the relationship between OTAs and top hotel chains has come under strain as both strive to retain as large a customer base as possible, especially as customers have become more informed and empowered to take their travel experiences into their own hands. As such, many industry analysts believe 2017 will be the year when top hotel brands move toward marketing directly to travelers themselves rather than going through OTAs, as has been the case in the past. While smaller brands are less able to follow this trend - the risk of losing valuable partnerships with clients and suppliers is too great - large hotel chains are expected to large aggressive marketing campaigns that could render OTAs somewhat obsolete from a traveler’s perspective.
This means a traveler in 2017 could be more likely to work directly with a hotel chain to secure the best room at the best rate, which would essentially be a 180 degree turn from how the process worked just a few years ago.
Surge in OTA users
While this may seem contradictory to our last point, travel industry experts expect to see a large spike in the number of users engaging with OTA platforms as more markets access and embrace the internet, and fast, accurate internet use becomes more and more prevalent. This jump in users on OTA platforms is also likely to stem from the continued growth of mobile technology and a younger generation of travelers that view mobile capability as an integral part of their daily lives. Millennials, who are perhaps the most coveted customer pool of the travel industry, are not only reliant on their smartphones and mobile devices for daily interactions, but they view a company’s ability to provide quality mobile services as a core driver as to whether they’ll work with that company now and in the future.
As with advancement or developments in any field, the impact of change takes time to truly understand. However, if the pace at which the travel industry moved in 2016 is any indication, the way travelers complete bookings in 2017 could see some significant shifts with impacts that resonate well into the future.