Travel companies failing to provide digital destinations

Holidays are as much about switching on as switching off, as consumers now consider technology to be an indispensable travel aid, but travel brands fall behind social media and reviews sites among their favoured online resources.

With the Easter holidays now in full swing many families are jetting off for a well-earned break. But while holidays were once a time to initiate a ‘digital detox’ and switch off from the outside world, nearly half of travellers now welcome the time and cost savings that technology can provide.

One fifth of travellers now use a mobile or tablet while abroad, with a further 28% quite likely to do so, according to a study of 2,000 UK adults by The Bio Agency.

Almost half (47%) turn to their digital devices for help saving money, which rises to 52% among those aged over 60.

Also important for 30% of respondents is the chance to save time and avoid queuing, while 26% seek to find a more tailored experience by using digital technology. Those aged 18-30 are the most keen to personalise their holiday with a third of travellers in this demographic suggesting that a more bespoke trip would enhance their time away.

A quarter of travellers also use digital technology to access advice and suggestions from people who have been to the same destination previously.

However, while some sectors are already taking advantage of increasingly connected holidaymakers, the study reveals that the travel industry is failing to grasp the opportunity.

Of the brands that consumers list as providing a good digital experience while travelling, just eight of the top 20 are travel companies, none of which feature in the top five.

Thomson (6th), Expedia (8th) and EasyJet (9th) are the only travel brands to appear in the top 10, with, Thomas Cook, British Airways and Virgin claiming places 15th-18th and Skyscanner coming in 20th.

“There is a real opportunity for brands to enhance travellers’ experience in a really meaningful way, which they are just not doing today,” says Peter Veash, CEO of The Bio Agency. “Travel brands are missing a trick because other brands are already coming in and starting to take that space.”

It is reviews website TripAdvisor that claims the top spot in consumers’ eyes, followed by social media and messenger brands Facebook (2nd), Whatsapp (4th) and Instagram (5th), with Google Maps coming in 3rd.

“Customers want help digitally. They don’t always want to have to go and search for things. There is enough sophistication with technology now to make those decisions and enhance the customer experience but travel companies just aren’t doing it,” he adds.

Although 19% of consumers say they don’t plan to use digital technology while they’re away, with an additional 13% considering abstinence quite likely, the vast majority (69%) do expect hotels and resorts at their destination to offer free Wi-Fi.

Most consumers (60%) would also like to use technology to help them track the location of their luggage at the airport, and 56% want to be able to check-in online via an app. Over a third (38%) would also be interested in translation apps to help them communicate abroad, all of which are areas travel brands could explore.

Ahead of booking a holiday consumers are already more reliant on digital technology as 68% use it to research a trip and 65% make a booking via a connected device.

Just 7% use a mobile to make the booking, however, with 63% still opting to do so via a desktop computer. Considering mobile now accounts for 50% of all ecommerce traffic, according to a separate study by Shopify last year, the travel sector is again falling behind. Being comfortable with making such a high-value transaction on a mobile is probably a factor, as the price of a holiday is likely to be significantly more than the average purchase from an online retailer.

A fifth (20%) of over-60s still prefer to visit bricks-and-mortar travel agents when parting with cash for a trip and would appreciate more ‘human’ technology that recognises them and recalls their purchase history. By contrast, just 7% of 18- to 30-year-olds still use travel agents, with 74% instead preferring to go online.

Consumers’ reliance on digital technology is only set to increase, both ahead of a holiday and on arrival, but travel brands are not yet there to meet them online. At present it is the digitally-native businesses that are winning consumers’ attention abroad, so unless travel companies want to get left behind they need to start creating more engaging digital opportunities.