2020: the travel tech trends for the year ahead from the year we’re leaving

Unlocking the true potential

Sciant
Sciant
Dec 19, 2019 · 8 min read

We’ve seen a range of new tech solutions and ideas enter the marketplace this year with significant investment being made into the travel sector. In the last five years alone travel startups have received over £1 billion in new investment. The online travel market, for example, is expected to grow to $817 billion for 2020.

With a new decade ahead of us, many bright ideas are waiting in the wings. There are solutions that have had some early adoption while the masses start to understand how to use this technology in their own systems.

At Sciant, we keep our fingers on the pulse, observing the new trends that are opening up the market and the technology that sits behind it. Our developers and project managers stay abreast of industry developments to help our customers optimise the performance of their systems.

In a sector that added a record $8.8 trillion to the world’s combined GDP last year– a massive 10.4% of the world’s total economic activity there are massive strides to be made in digital transformation to manage huge quantities of data and meet customer expectations.

As 2019 comes to a close, we identify the four areas of focus for 2020:

1. System connectivity — a new era of interfaces

Connectivity and integration will continue to be major trends for 2020. This year saw the growth of ecosystems of interconnected software with the launch of Siteminder’s Hotel App Store and Apaleo Marketplace, much like the Protel and Snapshot marketplaces that came before. These enable products to be integrated with compatible PMSs (or other hotel systems) via an essentially plug-and-play approach, making integration much simpler and more efficient. These markets will expand in 2020 and competitors offering similar cloud-based integrations will also prosper.

With the API ecosystem estimated to be worth over £1 trillion, it’s no wonder that open APIs are a trend that will continue into the next year. With smaller players looking to hook up legacy systems to new applications and industry giants like the big OTAs, open APIs will remain a credible way for the industry to become more connected.

Yet the increasingly common situation is when both partners have Open APIs, the need here is for one of them to write and maintain an adaptor to the other, thus either requiring resources internally to build and maintain these interfaces, or third party outsourcing to develop and manage them.

This is a huge challenge the sector is facing when systems need to be connected but businesses do not have the experience and resources to develop them. Here at Sciant we have developed our role to provide that support to companies needing the essential interfaces to unlock system performance and commercial capabilities.

Furthermore, new products will increasingly take an API-first approach that puts integration at the forefront of everything they offer. Open APIs and software ecosystems certainly make life much easier for start-ups, enabling them to quickly forge partnerships with and link their products to the wider ecosystem. It also spells the end for the old model, exemplified by Thomas Cook, where relying on small networks of partners was a viable way of doing business. However, new tech needs to ensure it has a diverse range of connections and not solely rely on one to attract market interest.

Might 2020 see the death of more dinosaurs within the travel and hospitality industry? Don’t bet against it.

Margaret Ady, co-founder of Apaleo, asks why APIs are not as simple as installing a new mobile phone app.

Nicki Dehler, VP of Product Management, StayNTouch, A Shiji Group Brand talks about choosing the right integrations for your property not being a black-or-white proposition. After all, different hotels have different business goals, markets and guest profiles. But choosing a deeper integration over a shallow one can make the difference between night and day for your property.

Skift published an insight article to the changing dynamics of accessing PMS data through new tech vendors and development companies in the travel and hospitality industry. The piece explores the important piece of the puzzle to accessing critical data for new hotel tech solutions.

Hospitality Net asked the industry: In this era of rapid technological advancements and adoption of next-gen technologies such as AI, IoT, automation, robotics, blockchain, etc., should hoteliers keep technology developments in-house or outsource to specialized, well-funded vendors? Connections were mentioned by a few contributors.

Simone Puorto explores the current state of data exchange and building the architecture to make it happen.

2. Big data — Automation applied to hospitality technology and solutions

With the huge investment in AI and machine learning, automation will continue to be a dominant trend in 2020. With 70% adoption by OTA’s and 52% of airlines planning on investing in large AI-based programmes in the next three years, it’s not hard to see why.

Consumers are becoming ever more familiar with chatbots helping to normalise automation and reducing its heavily discussed threats to jobs. As chatbots become increasingly sophisticated to the point where they are indistinguishable from humans, minds are opened to the wider application of machine learning.

Businesses are seeing the benefits of freeing staff from manual and repetitive processes allowing them, to focus on more creative and strategic tasks. We are seeing more AI-powered devices interacting with travellers too, from AI-powered digital robot concierges in hotel lobbies and voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa stationed in guest rooms, or responding to email booking enquiries like that of HotelResBot.

And these are just the front-of-house applications. Behind the scenes AI will increasingly be taking control, analysing big data to provide insight to make intelligent strategic decisions, and improving personalisation with more targeted communication, marketing and offers based on consumers’ engagement and interaction.

AI will be also be used in conjunction with facial and voice recognition technologies — another growing trend in 2020 — and will automate a whole host of tedious and repetitive back office tasks like optimising rate structures and distribution channels, as well as processing standard guest requests (much like Radisson Edwardian’s chatbot Edward, freeing up humans to concentrate on higher level customer engagement.

The 2019 Smart Decision Guide to Hospitality Revenue Management explores the role of automation in hotel revenue management. Enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the science of pricing optimization is now capable of running largely on autopilot. The best of today’s solutions adapt in real time to dynamic markets characterized by ever-changing criteria attributes for rate optimisation.

3. Digital skills — preparing the workforce

As digital transformation continues apace, lack of digital skills in the workforce will become a prominent issue in the coming year. Businesses, even down to the level of individual hotels, will become used to working alongside and in cooperation with automated digital processes, as well as highly technologically proficient team members such as data scientists and integration specialists.

The base level of digital skills will be raised by this yet further investment will need to be made in learning and development programmes to keep abreast of new technology and processes. In addition, technical abilities are being lost, although staff may be able to use digital platforms there is a huge demand for developers and data analysts to optimise the performance of systems — with significant numbers of vacancies on the market unfilled. Automation will allow for the upskilling of workers in other areas, which will offer better staff mobility and clearer and more accessible career and knowledge pathways within businesses if these changes are embraced and support is provided to develop skills in these areas.

In addition, the new digital platforms will lead to an improved level of what humans have always been best at — the soft skills that depend on curiosity, friendliness and compassion that are at the heart of hospitality.

Another upshot of digital transformation will be greater cooperation between teams and departments. Integration of systems and data means that no one can act inside their own bubble anymore. Staff need to be comfortable integrating their own tasks and skills with that of other areas of the business in order that data is shared for maximum potential and the operation works as an organic whole rather than several partitioned units.

Digital transformation will also pave the way for more diversity and inclusion within the workplace, with HR teams able to concentrate more on the balance of their team and how to perfect it.

Research for the UK market indicates that employers struggle to fill about one-third of vacancies due to a lack of the right digital skills amongst applicants and although evidence suggests that the UK does have a strong digitally enabled workforce; there still remains a digital skill shortage. This is not just a problem experienced in the UK, but worldwide.

With digital access to everyone, everyone is now a knowledge worker with the need to understand the tools they are using and how to improve business performance. Unfortunately few companies are investing in learning and development, assuming that everyone already has the proficient skills to pursue business success.

4. Unlocking revenue potential

Whereas airlines earned over $82 billion in ancillary revenues in 2017 alone, hotels are still way behind the curve when it comes to tapping the potential of additional offerings. Studies have found that only 25% of hotels have ancillary products and services promoted along their booking funnel. And only 57% of properties upsell during guest stays. Both Cendyn eUpgrade and Oaky have moved into this space to help hoteliers maximise income personalised to each guests travel journey and stay experience.

2020 will see hotels straining to catch up by offering their own added extras and teaming up with external partners to offer additional experiences. Some of the more common trends will be opening communal spaces to external and local events such as business events, start-up incubators and coworking areas.

Working with partners to provide local experiences will also become more popular, with hotels increasingly establishing themselves as local hubs for travellers to find authentic local experiences, falling more in line with the AirBnB model. Smaller businesses will increasingly look to partner with growing tech companies that provide complementary offerings in order to optimise the potential and boost the earnings of additional products.

Rachel Grier, Area vice president, Asia Pacific for IDeaS looks into the huge quantities of data being produced and how its is overwhelming the industry. Giving over to automation, the role new technologies can play to allow the travel and hospitality sector gain control of their data.

Speakers at the Hotel Data Conference shared some ways they’re finding new revenue streams at their hotels, from parking and golf to selling roof space.

If you’re interested to know how these technologies are being deployed and the potential that is being unlocked, contact one of the Sciant team who can give you the insight on building a robust future for tech systems.

Sciant

IT and Software Development Services Company

Sciant

Written by

Sciant

IT services company specialising in hospitality and travel, logistics and transport.

Sciant

Sciant

IT and Software Development Services Company

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