Automate, Transform, Optimize: Insights for Travel Companies from Industry Experts

Digital transformation has always been a business imperative, but not everyone realized it. Today’s landscape has heightened that need to acute. In order to survive the current and future storms, it is a must for companies in the Travel and Hospitality sectors to optimize their operations in order to cut costs, increase efficiency, and offer better customer service. This may be their only path to survival and recovery.
24/08/20
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Automate, Transform, Optimize: Insights for Travel Companies from Industry Experts

On July 27th, DataArt’s Travel & Hospitality experts hosted the webinar, «Automate to Regenerate: Cost Optimization Technology Insight for Travel Companies,» featuring travel industry experts and opinion leaders, including: Jenne Pierce, Tech Product Advisor, Former SVP Product, Apple Leisure Group; Edward Silver, Strategic Advisor, Former CTO, Flight Centre; and Greg Abbott, Head of Travel, Transportation and Hospitality Practice, DataArt. Philip Wolf, Founder and Serial Board Director, PhocusWright, moderated the discussion.

Watch the webinar recording:

During this discussion, our experts received a number of pertinent questions from the audience, touching on several indispensable components of digital transformation — including mindset change within a company, shifting optimization priorities from customer-facing to operational processes, and consistent optimization in small companies. Read on to discover the important business insights divulged by industry leaders in response to these questions.

Insight #1: How to Change a Company’s Mindset and Lay a Course for Transformation

Question: You talked about helpful tools and processes (no-code/low-code, cloud) related to digital transformation. But, for a lot of these initiatives to be successful, one needs to first change the mindset of the people within an organization. What are your thoughts on how to get a workforce excited and buy in to change?

Jenne Pierce, Tech Product Advisor, Former SVP Product, Apple Leisure Group: I find that success stories and case studies from other companies in the same domain can really help make esoteric concepts such as «digital transformation» more tangible and approachable for those who don’t deal with technology all the time. Consider, for instance, a case study of Scandinavian Airlines, a company that leveraged cloud and ML for multiple business problems: flight capacity and sales predictions, loyalty fraud prevention, and reducing onboard food waste by 45%. They reaped clear measurable benefits from this transformation, which is easy to understand even by those who are not tech savvy.

Insight #2: How to Shift Optimization Priorities from Frontend to Backend

Question: Our organization has historically put much more focus on the frontend experience of travel agents and end consumers. Operational processes took a back seat and were less important. I clearly saw this trend with COVID, especially when it came to processing refunds. Do you see the focus on internal operational cost reduction becoming more sustained as we move forward?

Greg Abbott, Head of Travel, Transportation and Hospitality Practice, DataArt: I see this as a pendulum. For the foreseeable future, those with costly legacy technology will be focused on operational cost reduction. That said, even these new changes should map back to end user value, if possible. Automation does not just mean cost reduction; it can mean better service and increased employee satisfaction, garnering better retention and thus benefiting the organization as a whole.

Philip Wolf, Founder and Serial Board Director, PhocusWright: Absolutely. For many, automation used to be just «nice to have.» Now, automation will be a driver in differentiating winners from losers.

Edward Silver, Strategic Advisor, Former CTO, Flight Centre: I think there will be a shift here, but my suggestion is: don’t wait for your organization to change its overall thinking. Instead, try to automate on your own, reduce overhead expenses by removing repeated processes. The organization will thank you, and your value will increase.

Jenne Pierce, Tech Product Advisor, Former SVP Product, Apple Leisure Group: In addition to what my colleagues have said, I think some organizations struggle to realize what really can be automated. I do think some of the low-code automation options (for example virtual agents for backend processes) to create proof-of-concepts are worth trying.

Insight #3: How to Create Customer-Centric Initiatives

Question: Philip Wolf quoted Peter Drucker: «People think that the tragedy of the crisis is the crisis. But it’s not. The tragedy is looking at the crisis with yesterday’s logic.» To follow up on that, Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, said: «Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, good companies survive them, and great companies are improved by them.» What are some of the great customer-centric things travel companies should be doing right now?

Philip Wolf, Founder and Serial Board Director, PhocusWright: I think Viking Cruises launching Viking.TV is a brilliant example of a travel company doing the right thing in a time of crisis. Moving your brand from a low/no traffic situation (cruising now) to a high traffic situation (watching TV) is brilliant. Besides, now is the time to finally get rid of all those legacy vouchers and coupons and go 100% paperless.

Edward Silver, Strategic Advisor, Former CTO, Flight Centre: Any process, action, or required touch point that meant a customer had to call a travel company or other business should be automated. I’ve seen my bank and insurance company add communication channels, via chat and other form actions, so I don’t have to call. This is what travel companies should think about too.

Jenne Pierce, Tech Product Advisor, Former SVP Product, Apple Leisure Group: I think offering a large bonus for rebooking instead of canceling a trip is a win-win; travel companies get to keep the cash they need, and the traveler gets a deal for when the world re-opens. I just hope that the fine print is customer-centric, too; for instance, if we have another wave next year that renders travel problematic again.

Insight #4: How to Tailor Optimization Strategies for Small Travel Businesses

Question: How can small hotels/guest houses and smaller travel agencies face this pandemic, and keep their business running well, especially if they are new players on the market? Investing more in robotics and tech takes a lot of money, which they can’t afford.

Greg Abbott, Head of Travel, Transportation and Hospitality Practice, DataArt: Smaller hotels should be collaborating closely with their technology providers to see where their roadmaps are incorporating Intelligent Automation tools. Also, basic hotel operational processes should be looked at through automated workflow tools.

Philip Wolf, Founder and Serial Board Director, PhocusWright: For small entities to survive this turbulent time, there also needs to be a cultural or «thinking» shift. In just a matter of months, the long-regarded quest for «high touch» became a bad thing. Service needs to be low-touch but efficient.

Edward Silver, Strategic Advisor, Former CTO, Flight Centre: There are always ways to optimize your operations while not investing too much. Adding small touchless transaction options in your hotel should not require a major investment. Just upgrade your vending machines to accept Apple Pay, enable online and mobile ordering in your grab-and-go with Square apps, automate email responses via Zapier. Start small, think big!

Key Takeaways

The pandemic has accelerated innovation and digital transformation in many industries, including the Travel and Hospitality sectors. Travel companies have no excuse for ignoring the technological benefits of automation of their services and the potential for cost optimization. Some companies are already wisely investing in technology and engineering during this industry-wide repose, to obtain a competitive advantage once the pandemic is over. At DataArt, we have helped multiple travel companies achieve new levels of operational excellence and maximize the value of technological innovation.

Want to hear some real success stories of DataArt helping clients to automate business processes and optimize costs? Register now for the second episode of the DataArt Travel webinar series, «Automate to Regenerate, Part Two: Cost Optimization Case Studies in Travel.»

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