New research on travelers’ comfort levels when using digital platforms to book and manage their trips shows that even Baby Boomers, the oldest group of still-active travelers, largely have become accustomed to shopping for, buying and managing their travels digitally.
But traveling Boomers have only achieved their new-found level of comfort with digital travel tools at roughly the same time that younger travelers from Generations X and Y (and even Z) are demanding even more efficient, easier-to-use, and more-advanced travel technologies. More and more of those youngish-to-middle-age travelers want to be able to use technologies like voice assistants (think Siri or Alexa), or augmented and virtual reality in ways that will make their travel experience even more enjoyable and less of a hassle.
Those are some of the top findings from the 2019 edition of Travelport’s Global Digital Traveler Research report, released today. This year Travelport, one of the world’s largest global online marketplaces for consumer travel and provider of technology-driven travel marketing and management services to airlines, hotels and other travel service companies, surveyed 23,000 people from 20 nations. That includes 1,000 Americans.
“The opportunities are really endless as to how the travel experience can be improved” through the addition and refinement of new digital capabilities, says Simon Ferguson, Travelport’s President and Managing Director for the Americas. “But you’ve got to be willing to participate and to be willing to give your data in order to receive those kinds of benefits.”
As Baby Boomers – those born between 1944 and 1964 and now aged 55-75 – are getting comfortable with the notion of booking and managing their travel not simply via computer but via their smart phones, the most tech-savvy adults – those born between 1980 and 1994 and who are now between the ages of 25 and 39 (Gen Y or “Millennials”) are craving even new technologies that they believe will make the digital travel experience easier and more enjoyable, Ferguson noted.
Specifically, 60% of Baby Boomers now say that they appreciate travel brands’ digital experience (online check-in, gate information, room access via smart phone rather than a key or keycard, and more) and that those digital are impacting purchasing decisions and the quality of their travel experiences. Meanwhile, 67% of Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) and 78% of Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) say the same thing. And a whopping 81% of the members of Gen Y (those born between 1995 and 2015, of whom only those born before 2001 are likely to be buying and managing their own travels) say such digitally-delivered travel services are important in their travel purchasing decisions.
For example: the Travelport survey shows that Millennials – or members of Generation Y – are frustrated that finding and booking travel services digitally is much more difficult than buying most other types of services and goods for which they shop online.
Baby Boomers, on the other hand, likely are more satisfied with today’s travel technologies because they remember how difficult it was to shop for and buy their travel either by calling multiple providers to get price quotes and availabilities or having go through a travel agent, a process that typically required more than six phone conversations.
But 54% of today’s Gen X, and 69% of today’s Gen Z travelers are frustrated at not being able to see the availability and cost “extras” like airplane seat selection, bag check fees, or hotel club privileges when shopping via their smart phones. And at least half of the members of all three of the younger generations of travelers – 62% of Gen Z, 56% of Millennials, and 50% of Gen X – found the complicated rules or terms and conditions attached to such things as flight or stay cancellations and changes in travel plans to be frustrating.
In general, Ferguson said, the more willing that travelers are to provide personal data, the better the digital experience they get online today, and the better still will their digital travel experiences in the future in future. Thus, it makes sense that younger travelers who either grew up in a digital world or adapted to it early in their adult years, are most comfortable using digital tools to book and manage their travel and are eager to use even more tech tools to buy and manage their travel in the future. And though older, Boomer generation travelers increasingly are comfortable with today’s digital travel tools., the question, now, Ferguson says, will be how much farther are those older travelers willing to go in getting comfortable with the even more advanced travel technologies yet to come?
Ferguson noted, however, that the desire for more and even better travel service technologies does not mean that younger consumers now, and all consumers in the future will have no need for humans to help them through the travel shopping, buying and management process.
“People still want to interface with humans at the right point in the sales cycle, from initial information gathering all the way through to making changes” in the middle of a trip, he said. “We don’t want to have to talk to people to do the simple things. But we do want (travel industry) people to talk to when we need help. And we want to be able to get that help from a human when we’re making our plans” instead of only during daytime hours or (during) a provider’s set business hours.
In fact, Ferguson noted, that the newest trend is for companies that began life as purely digital service providers or online sellers of goods to move into limited brick-and-mortar retailing where they can meet some consumers’ continuing and/or new demands for human interaction with salespeople.
“Amazon for example: they’re going more and more into physical retailing with their acquisition of Whole Foods and opening of retail book shops,” he said. “Brands need to offer a great digital experience. But they also need humans available at the key points of interaction. And we’re seeing growth opportunities for similar approaches in other industries, particularly travel. How each industry or provider responds to that may be different but we’re seeing that demand grow.”
As for ways to improve the digital travel shopping and travel management experiences, Ferguson suggests that simplification and updating of travel providers’ digital and mobile interfaces, most of which are now based on older visual presentation approaches, is very much needed. And that could – should – include dramatic improvements to visual appeal of providers’ websites and mobile presentations. That likely will mean including more video and better graphic elements that will give users not only more information but very clear visual representations of what’s being offered.
“The question now is how committed are the airlines, hotels and even major travel online travel systems like Expediea and others to improving their visual elements? Ferguson said. “Improved use of visual elements offers some great opportunities for addressing problems with how complex booking apps today can be. Those interfaces are 10 years or so old now and the technology available today can be used to create a much more satisfying experience for users.”
Other interesting findings from the 2019 Travelport survey include:
· “Value” has become much more important than mere “cost” when shopping for travel services. When booking a flight 86% of all travelers say value – getting the best combination of experience and price – is more important than simply getting the lowest price. Baby Boomers, in fact, lead that shift in priorities, with 91% placing value ahead of absolute price in making their travel selections.
· The number of air travelers who now want to customize their experience by purchasing add-ons such as additional leg room, additional checked bags and meal upgrades is approaching 50% across all age groups (42%). And 24% say they prefer so-called “branded” offers from airlines that already include some of the most popular additional services as part of a packaged price.
· Social media platforms are becoming increasingly popular as sources of information about travel services, destinations and opportunities. Not surprisingly, Gen Z members, the youngest of the age groups are more commonly influenced (71%) by travel related information found on Instagram while 64% of Millennials find Facebook to be more influential on such subjects. Just 24% of them find Instagram to be the most influential on their thinking about travel opportunities. Both Gen Xers (70%) and Baby Boomers (58%) are most heavily influenced in terms of their thinking about travel opportunities by Facebook among all social media platforms.
· Millennials (76%), Gen Xers (59%) and Baby Boomers (48%) now are comfortable using Biometric data (facial recognition, eye scans, etc.) to clear security checkpoints, or to be recognized and/or to receive special offers or treatment from travel company personnel.