Expedia’s Senior Vice President of Global Product and Design Arthur Chapin (above) outlines the trends hoteliers need to know in a rapidly-transforming world of highly sophisticated travelers.

Simply keeping up with the digital expectations of today’s tech-savvy consumer is no longer an option. Exceeding those expectations is a travel industry imperative and an opportunity for hotels to focus on the only thing that truly matters to consumers: the end-to-end guest experience.

AI and Machine Learning: Chatbots become ubiquitous

This year will be a year where AI becomes not just a futuristic technology, but an integrated and valuable everyday tool. Chatbots are already enabling deeper and easier traveler communication – and they are expanding daily to different mediums: chat, social channels, voice assistants, and more.

New tools and technologies in this space will allow hoteliers to connect with consumers in deeper and more meaningful ways and with increased personalisation. By better knowing each customer and intuitively providing them with the information they want, we’re freeing up time, and starting off their travel experience right with frictionless discovery, search and booking processes.

Raising our Voice: Alexa and Google go mainstream

We have been hearing it for years. Voice-enabled digital assistants are poised to not just change the travel industry, but nearly every industry we touch in our lives. By 2021, there will be 7.5 billion digital assistants in the world. Digital assistants today are giving us weather and traffic information, and entertainment content – but they are also enabling us to search hotels, check the status of flights, and more.

In Australia, industry leaders are starting to tap into the opportunities voice-activated tech provides, with companies such as Westpac, NAB and Airtasker announcing planned services through Amazon’s Alexa. As an industry, we need to be at the forefront of testing voice skills, and aligning with the growing traveler adoption of this technology, to ensure we’re equipped and at full performance when it becomes ubiquitous.

Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and others have already sold more than 20 million devices, and that figure is expected to double in less than a year. While the technology is still gaining ground in Australia, 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistance at least once a month last year – a jump of more than 128% since 2016.

Seeking Experiences

72% of consumers today seek experiences over things. Coined as the “experience economy,” this desire for collecting memories versus items continues to grow across all generations. For hoteliers, this presents a great opportunity to target consumers who in addition to traveling to new locations, are attending concerts, sporting events, and shows.

In 2018, consumers will not just book a hotel room, they will book the experience that happens during their time in the market – from dinner reservations, to tours and activities to entertainment. Given their position in the purchase funnel, hotels have the unique opportunity to make a guest’s stay – not just on property, but also off property – differentiated and memorable. Providing the guest with an insider’s guide to your city/location, along with top attractions and off-the-beaten-path suggestions, will build true loyalty and engagement, and help deliver on the experiences that today’s consumer craves.

Packing Power

Marketplaces rule the world. Just look at Amazon, the one-stop shop now for nearly any consumer desire – practical or otherwise. After Amazon’s recent entry into the Australian market, we can expect Australian consumers will increasingly come to expect an Amazon-style seamless, one-stop experience in nearly every area of their lives.

A recent multi-generational study by Brand Expedia shows that 80% of travelers find it useful to book all their trip components together, and for Gen Z, that jumps to a massive 87%. Convenience is king. The upside for hotels is that offering rooms in “package bookings”, alongside flights and cars, typically means higher ADR, longer booking windows and fewer cancellations. Plus, consumers can streamline their research and booking into one seamless purchase. Packages really are a win-win.

Weathering the Storms

From travel alerts to duty of care, helping leisure and business travelers prepare for disasters before, during and after a storm is a meaningful and valued service. If there was anything the travel industry observed broadly in 2017, it was the impact of weather and natural disasters, as well as changes to national visa and travel policies, can have on travel.  The industry also witnessed just how important traveler safety, communication and satisfaction is during these travel disruptions.

During an executive roundtable at the 2017 Phocuswright Conference, industry leaders discussed the importance of having a contingency plan in place before a crisis happens. Being prepared helps the travel industry bounce back more quickly after a period of disruption.

Making the rebooking process easy and efficient, as well as supporting those travelers stranded in a time of crisis, is just one way we as an industry can help alleviate concerns.

Aiding in real time, whether by helping rebook trips or diverting travelers to non-impacted markets, is not only time-saving, but can also be life-saving as well.

For the business travelers, providing duty of care information – alerting HR departments and managers as to which company representatives are in the impacted region, where they are and plans to assure their safe stay and return, is also critical to riding out the storm together.