[Column] Corine Mbiaketcha Nana: Automation vacation – technology driving change in the Kenyan travel industry
It is often said we live for the holidays, and perhaps proof of that is the fact that today, the tourist industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, with a business volume equal to or even surpassing that of oil exports, food products or automobiles.
This is no difference in Kenya, where the sector is experiencing a strong revival after a few years of decline. Data released by the Kenya Tourism Board shows that total tourism arrivals for the 2017/18 financial year grew by 6.8% to 1,488,370 visitors compared to 1,393,568 in 2016/17, while tourism industry revenue saw just under 10% growth to Kshs 117.6 billion, up from KShs 107 billion in 2016/17.
There were increases in arrivals across air, sea and over-land borders, with the top source markets being identified as the USA, UK, Uganda, India and Germany, with double-digit growth being registered for arrivals from Ethiopia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, UAE and Uganda. The domestic tourism market was more restrained, recording growth of 1.1% as indicated in the domestic bed nights' figure, which came in at 3.67 million bed nights, compared to 3.64 million in 2016/17.
With this growth comes increasing competition among destinations as they seek to tempt consumers and respond to traveller demands. Our increasingly sophisticated tastes and requirements are giving rise to a whole new range of holiday genres from honey booms to experiential or solo vacations, amongst others.
Driving further disruption in the tourism landscape, technology and digital platforms are fundamentally changing how travel is traditionally researched, bought, sold, experienced and shared, impacting the way the whole sector operates, end to end.
Online travel agents and comparison sites vie to provide the best pricing options and to deliver a seamless travel experience. Increasingly we don’t just expect to have our personal tastes catered for, we expect providers to anticipate what we want ahead of time. In fact it is the price we demand for building lasting customer relationships with brands.
That’s why airlines, hotels and other hospitality companies are turning to technology and automated services to remove the bottlenecks that have traditionally stood in their customers’ way and give people their time back.
Automate to solve genuine pain points
The term ‘automation’ may conjure up the image of faceless robots and processes that don’t understand our needs, but this is not the way to apply it when serving people directly. Businesses need automation that is supported by a deep understanding of customers. Only then can they deliver experiences that are not just efficient but also personalised.
The key is to not automate services for the sake of it. Companies need to step in their customers’ shoes and apply their automation strategies to genuine pain points.
Meliá Hotels International, for example, has introduced a pioneering new technology to improve the guest experience. Hotel visitors, with just a flash of the wrist can unlock their room, can pay for meals in the restaurant or treatments at the spa or gain access to the VIP list for the best beach club.
All this comes via a new bluetooth powered bracelet that connects to the Meliá App, supported by diverse technologies based on Oracle Cloud. It has enabled the hotel chain to imagine a new type of vacation in which guests can access all hotel services without having to worry about carrying around cash or an identification document, and enjoy a more comfortable and connected holiday experience, just as they do at home.
Personalisation and automation aren’t just reshaping hotels and hospitality players. Even airlines are learning more about their customers based on data from multiple marketing, sales, and customer service channels - from booking to arrival - in order to provide them with a highly personalised service and experience.
At the heart of automated services is the consolidation and understanding of customer data, allowing companies to create detailed customer profiles that they can then use to differentiate themselves, delighting travellers with relevant and personalised experiences that put convenience above all else.
Today’s travel industry is unforgiving, and standing out has never been harder in a market where value plays a major role in attracting customers. The challenge for businesses is to remind people that not all companies are created equal when it comes to serving consumers.
There is no shortage of pain points that need addressing in the travel experience, which means even a little will go a long way. By making the process just a bit smoother and more personalised, today’s airline and hospitality players will deliver the ultimate value to their customers – more time and peace of mind to enjoy their holiday.