Travel demand continues to surge as restrictions ease, and people can finally experience the world again. International travel nearly tripled in the first half of 2022, and the International Air Transport Association expects at least 4 billion travelers by 2024, even higher than 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers.
The travel industry has two major problems currently: staff shortages and narrow margins. Travel demand has skyrocketed, and there has not been enough time to hire and train the amount of people necessary to meet the demand. In addition, businesses often do not have the means to pay for an exceptional customer experience at every step. They must optimize costs, and this inevitably leads to a compromise in some areas of the travel experience.
A drop in overall customer support combined with increased travel demand and fewer airline personnel means that travelers now have a problem. They must make multiple backup plans and prepare for the tremendous stress of handling cancellations and delays due to a lack of airline resources.
This has put travel advisors in high demand. Still, since so many were forced to abandon their jobs during the pandemic, the remaining ones are overwhelmed with work and under-equipped with technologies to help manage their workloads. Pre-pandemic, only 27% of travelers regularly used a travel advisor to book trips, but in a post-pandemic world, at least 44% of travelers now want to consult a travel agent for their future trips.
With at least 54% of travelers ready to take a trip within the next three months, the travel agent industry hasn’t caught up to travelers’ needs yet, but technology is paving a path toward better, faster service.
The Travel Industry is Slow, but Traveltech is Supplementing Customers’ Needs
Even before the pandemic, the travel industry was a conservative, slow-moving beast. Processes like baggage tracking and flight rescheduling weren’t automated, and post-COVID hiring strategies didn’t account for the need for hundreds of ground staff all at once.
Now, technologies like Thales’ Fly to Gate use biometrics to verify passengers at security checks, and AI software like Coseer helps airlines automate and speed up response times to issues like flight delays or lost baggage.
In addition to these solutions, travel advisors are turning to traveltech tools like Expedia Access and TravelWorks to automate some of the most time-consuming portions of their jobs, such as managing multiple clients’ trips and keeping accounting in order.
On the whole, technology creates a window of opportunity for travel businesses to fight the two major problems – staff shortages and narrow margins. Tech solutions help optimize operations so that businesses can use the money and resources saved to improve customer experience.
Unfortunately, the traveltech solutions available currently lack the breadth and depth needed to truly address the needs of travelers and travel agents. Chatbots, AI software and apps are a great start. However, the travel industry still has to contend with outdated legacy technology like the Global Distribution System (GDS), which is still the industry standard reservation tool.
Digitization Takes Time, So Airlines Need to Revise Their Strategies
The travel industry is eager to improve and seeking out newer, better ways to reorient toward customers. However, it does not yet have the agility to develop and implement the digital solutions that are needed for a stellar customer experience. In fact, even if we began immediately, a complete digital upgrade to the travel industry would take several years.
In light of this, airlines need to adjust their goals to be less focused on short-term profits and more focused on long-term stability and sustainability, which includes improving travelers’ experiences. Customers are willing to endure a certain amount of inconvenience and discomfort out of sympathy for the providers. However, they rightfully expect empathy and as positive an experience as possible in return for their patience, and this is the missing link.
Combining existing tech with better customer care allows the travel industry to make the best out of a difficult situation. They can maximize their human resources by automating and streamlining basic tasks, and they can minimize customer dissatisfaction by allowing staff members to provide an empathetic human connection when problems arise.