Is the hospitality sector ready for new technology trends?

by / Friday, 17 June 2011 / Published in Blog

The web has profoundly affected the hospitality and tourism sector. Where once people relied on travel agents to arrange holidays, now we increasingly book flights and accommodation directly.

But is this revolution about to change again? According to Professor Andrew J Frew of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh that’s what business needs to plan for…

The professor was speaking at a recent event looking at eTourism and how small to medium enterprises in the hospitality sector should be thinking about the way consumers will be seeking out experiences in years to come.

He made some observations about trends in this field:

1. People are going to be increasingly reliant on mobile devices to seek out information – before and during visits

Whether it be the rapidly growing popularity of smartphones, or some other high-tech gadget of the future, soon there will be greater reliance on personal devices as a tool for researching possible holiday destinations. This could be on a tablet, a smartphone or even some sort of future heads-up display you walk around with, in much the same way we wear headphones to listen to music or talk on the phone today.

2. There will be greater use of intelligent agents to pre-filter prospective destinations before purchase

Right now any budding self-service travel agent (i.e. you) has to rely on a process of discovery which starts with a search engine and results in a progressive filtering down to intermediary sites like, for example, Expedia or Ryanair. It’s not a quick or painless process but it is more empowering as the end consumer is very much in the driver’s seat. The one saving grace for the humble travel agent currently is that they do the donkey work for you, though you pay accordingly.

But that’s about to change as artificial intelligence reaches a point where we can type or even tell a piece of smart software sitting in your phone to go find a suitable weekend break in destination X, or within a certain radius, at a preferred price point, and it accepts dogs… or whatever.

The point is, where we now rely less and less on professional travel agents to make holiday arrangements for us, it looks like in the future we will rely more and more on intelligent software agents to do the hard graft of going onto the web to seek out what we want and bring us back a pre-filtered list of suitable candidates. Bliss.

For businesses that want to be found by these intelligent agents, when they become part of the web landscape (and they surely will), it’s going to be important that your website content is structured in such a way that it makes it easy for them to extract the relevant data.

3. Augmented reality is going to be an important value add for visitors

Augmented reality is already available today. Imagine pointing your tablet computer’s camera at some iconic building and up pops the image on your screen, populated with additional information on the history of the building, the nearest place to buy a bagel, when the next bus is due at the nearby bus-stop…The argument goes that this will enhance a visitor’s appreciation of a destination and add value in the process. You can download this type of software today for smartphones – Layar is a key example.

4. The role of intermediary or aggregated destination websites is going to change

If you are already in the hospitality field there’s a good chance you hedge your bets and list your B&B, hotel or self-catering unit on a relevant geographically targeted accommodation listings service. Arguably the best-known example in Scotland is the Visit Scotland website, which allows hospitality owners to advertise and even operate bookings directly from the website. Similarly, Ireland has Discover Ireland which covers all parts of the island.

Yet, with new and easier ways to search out destinations and specific locations, like intelligent agents, the role of these intermediary hospitality portals is also likely to change or perhaps even disappear altogether.

At one time taking online bookings was a complex process, so a site that aggregated hospitality venues and provided a fulfilment engine took away the headaches for small businesses that didn’t want to invent that wheel for themselves. But now there are a growing number of vendors offering easy-to-use bolt-on availability and booking engines which can handle all the hassles of accepting online financial payments.

What does it mean for the hospitality sector?

The takeaway from this is that businesses of any size in the hospitality sector need to be thinking about their existing web presence and how it’s going to need to adapt to survive a future where it’s not simply search engines coming along and cataloging your site, but intelligent agents with specific instructions to seek out and recommend based on price, availability or any number of other criteria.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even if you keep on top of this future trend, ultimately each potential piece of business needs to be realised by a person visiting and clicking that all important button to book. That’s why, while appreciating the importance of emerging technologies is vital, every business needs to make sure its website content works just as well for a pair of human eyes.

Ralph
@ralphenn

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