Social distancing and lockdowns have shifted the person-to-person travel paradigm. The future of business is digital.
Now, more than ever, tourists use digital tools for their travel journey, all the way from research to organizing, booking, and even discovering their destinations.
Experts call this trend “digital tourism” – a natural extension of innovation and digital transformation.
In the COVID-19 era and even post-COVID-19, the future of business is digital. Here are some of the things to look for:
According to A Brother Abroad, more than 35 million digital nomads of different nationalities travel the world right now. The infographic that illustrates this statistic is more than revealing and key to understanding this demographic as a potential power source of income for your business.
Most digital nomads are self-employed, and they are not big spenders. So, they expect you to reward them somehow. But what they lack in willingness to pay, they deliver in word-of-mouth advertising and brand advocating.
The pandemic shifted the balance for digital nomads: their numbers grow because “work from home” makes sense to maintain productivity for many businesses. So while, in the past, being a digital nomad was “cool,” today, it is a necessity.
In Greece, digital nomads benefit from a 50% tax break for the first seven years.
Mobile bookings are in, although not many operators optimized for this trend. According to statistics, before the pandemic, sometime in 2018, 82% of travel bookings occurred without any human interaction via a mobile app or website, and 70% of all customers do their research on a smartphone. Travel business owners must face these statistics as facts and adapt accordingly.
Moreover, new reports show that the mobile travel booking market will grow “with a CAGR of 12.2% during the forecast period from 2021 to 2029, starting from US$ 1,067.3 Mn in 2020.”
But statistics before the COVID-19 pandemic are almost irrelevant. Now, most consumers use mobile devices (or desktops) to search for travel services: hotels, Airbnb, RV parks, glamping, camping, trains, buses, planes, etc.
They search and book digitally – which means that any business not offering this solution is at a disadvantage.
Offering digital bookings is good when you don’t limit the payment options. For instance: forcing the customer to fill in a credit card number without providing alternatives like PayPal or other mobile wallet choices is counterintuitive.
Digital bookings should be easy, flexible, in the currency of your customer’s choice, safe, secure, and advantageous for both parties involved.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came lockdowns, social distancing, and other measures that limit travel as we know it. But people still love to “go places.”
Introducing “digital experiences” like virtual visits to museums, live cameras, and so on. People enjoyed digital experiences even before the pandemic. For instance, youth between 18 and 34 years old were 130% more likely to book a service or venue if they saw a virtual tour per MassInteract, and over 65% of customers wanted more businesses to offer virtual tours. And here is a vital stat for your travel business: virtual tours increase conversion by up to 67%.
These and other statistics show just how critical digital experiences are today for travelers. Also note, while virtual tours may only be appealing for the younger demographics, these people will be your customers tomorrow!
Talking about virtual tours, consider adding virtual reality as your digital experience marketing strategy in the future. As early as 2016 – as this following infographic by YouGov will show – customers preferred digital experiences (primarily virtual tours) – but many travel businesses still fail to deliver on those expectations.
With COVID-19, virtual travel tours are the norm. Here are some examples: virtual Yosemite, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Louvre museum, Grand Tour of Switzerland, Champagne, and the list goes on. While these tours are revealing, they don’t take away from the “in-person” experience. They help now, in a time of crisis, but they also allow future travelers to see what to expect when they arrive. So, let them see. Amaze them. It’s good marketing.
Convert big data into smart data and use it to target the right travelers – those that will make you happy to open your doors. Big data is impossible to use without filters and algorithms. These tools convert big data into smart data – and you want them to deliver contextual meaning based on what best serves your business.
For example, you can quantify smart data based on key performance indicators (KPIs), conversions, user behaviors, trends, and other insights. You will need to do so to boost your ROI and improve the customer experience by refining the message on your site and other online marketing assets to satisfy specific guest personas.
Guest personas matter because they convert: when you know your potential guests, you can design your offers and packages around them. For instance, the luxury traveler wants perks – the more, the exclusive, the better. Of course, the frugal traveler wants perks, too – this is the one who will appreciate the complimentary toiletries. But if you cater to luxury travelers, you are unlikely to target frugals or backpackers. To the point: when you know your audience, you are ahead of the game.
Whatever your business model, when it comes to money, make it accessible and digital. PayPal is not a “fancy” concept. It is there because it works. It helps with credit cards and instant payments, and their fees are more than fair.
PayPal, however, is not the only form of digital payment available. For example, almost all banks offer digital payment options – and if they don’t, you should pick another. Moreover, because of COVID-19, digital payments will probably increase to $6 trillion by 2024 (source). This epidemic forced people into using digital payments first as a form to avoiding person-to-person contact.
Because of COVID-19, “the number of consumers using mobile wallets to make payments jumped from around 900 million to 1.48 billion in the pandemic timeframe and, in 2020, 25.7% of all POS payments were made using mobile wallets, according to the Global Payments Report 2021. In three years, the figure is expected to jump to 33.4%.”
Contactless and digital payments make people feel safe. So if you want to remain relevant in the travel game, offer contactless payments. Yes, you probably provide some form of online payment – like credit cards – but is it enough? I prefer PayPal, and I avoid any vendor who doesn’t give me this option. So do you now understand why digital payments matter?
Travel professionals must adapt to the new normal and embrace digital-first technologies to appease local governmental bodies and travelers alike. The world still struggles under the COVID-19 threat, and a post-pandemic reality will have to fave other unpredictable challenges. In the meanwhile, only one thing is sure: the survival of business remains digital.