Digital transformation in the tourism and travel sector: the challenge of mobile devices

For a while we have been hearing about the digital transformation in companies and industries, especially in the tourism and travel sector, where digital adaptation is not optional but rather an indispensable condition to continue being competitive and responding to new consumer demands.

According to the Fundación Orange study on Digital transformation in the tourism and hospitality sector, “the tourism and travel sector makes extensive use of both information and transactions in all stages of the value chain.” Consumers search for information before a trip, they compare and check opinions of other travelers, and then they reserve tickets, hotels, and even tickets for shows and museums. During the trip, from online check-in to looking up information about restaurants and leisure activities. After traveling, they add their review to the information that other travelers will consult. All of this is done on a mobile device in more than 50% of cases.

With this in mind, digital strategies in this sector are increasingly based on online presence, differentiation, and reputation in order to be competitive.

But there are two ways of adapting to this digital transformation: being reactive, that is, incorporating technologies and processes that respond to consumer needs; or being proactive, offering new unexpected possibilities that take the customer’s digital experience to a new level.

In this adaptation, the role of the mobile device is gaining importance, since its use in all phases of the process is increasing every year, especially among millennials. In fact, for 90% of Spanish companies, going mobile is the key trend in digitalization right now (Digital Business Trends. Adigital, 2015).

With this in mind, many tourism and hotel companies are not just putting their web or offline functions in mobile format, but they are also creating experiences and new business models designed specifically for the mobile channel. The following list of factors gives an idea of the full potential of digitalization:

  • Searching for information before the trip: perhaps the most widespread use, since today more than 90% of users check information on the Internet before reserving a trip or hotel. This translates into a responsive website and even into versions directly envisioned for mobile devices, apps, and useful, quality content creation for the user, such as the NH Hoteles group blog.

  • Checking recommendations: although this is part of the process of searching for information before the trip, in many cases, it is done via other channels, not on the company’s website, therefore following up with and responding to reviews, especially negative ones, regardless of whether they are justified requires separate handling.

  • Online check-in and check-out: among the most pragmatic functions, especially for reserving hotels and flights, the possibility to check in online saves time and paperwork for the customer and improves the company’s internal management. In some cases, such as when reserving flights with some airlines, you must check in online in order to avoid an additional cost to do so at the check-in counter; this does not fit well with loyalty strategies, but in most cases, it is an added value.

  • Secure reservation and purchase process: increases in online reservations and purchases have also brought with it increased user concern for the security of their personal and financial data. One of the main challenges for any company is to implement disruptive solutions that offer high security in data handling while not causing a poor user experience, since this leads to high percentages of abandonment in the reservation and purchase process.

  • App development: users also search for information during the trip, which has fostered development of both general and specialized apps. In the case of hotels, they can serve to provide information about places and activities both in and outside of the hotel, with mobile services customized according to user preferences. There are also apps developed by tourism organizations such as Paradores of Spain or virtual tourist offices, and by city governments themselves to promote local tourism.

  • Smart cities: some towns, taking a step further in developing apps, have begun to implement geolocating smart systems with beacons that provide useful information for tourism: weather, hotels, culture, transportation, and even additional services such as supervision systems for children.

  • Connectivity: free mobile connectivity is essential now for many users, both Wi-Fi and 4G, for example. Internet connections are not only offered now in most hotels and other establishments such as restaurants and airports, but there are also areas implementing free Wi-Fi throughout the whole city.

  • Access to devices: some chains offer their clients devices such as tablets or smartphones during their hotel stay as a courtesy or for a small rental fee, offering access to tourist information and entertainment and practical information. For example, the Casual Hoteles chain offers the Mobile Pack service, which includes a device with Wi-Fi connection, portable battery, and selfie stick, free to customers who reserve directly on their website.

  • New business models: the high availability of users and the ability to geolocate them allow for additional, much more customized services, even new services such as reservations at the destination. This trend is even higher both among young people who travel without a set plan and reserve a hotel when they are already at their destination, and in business trips, which are often subject to last-minute changes.

  • Sector-based focus: apps focused on specific sectors are yielding excellent results in the entertainment and tourism sector, since they meet very concrete needs, such as the third sector, family tourism with children, the elderly, singles, the LGBT community, and even interest-based travel such as ornithology, hiking, scuba diving, or literary tours.

  • Augmented and virtual reality: beyond mobile devices, augmented and virtual reality experiences are now being offered, such as the digital observatory of the Barcelona Skyline at Terraza 83,3, which provides information about the monuments thanks to augmented reality technology, and which also allows immersive visits to some of the monuments with virtual reality goggles.

We could say that mobile technology is developing so quickly that it is hard to get an idea of all the potential it holds for the tourism and travel sector. The digital transformation clearly happens when you listen to clients, understand them, and constantly offer them unique experiences.