To focus only on the outsized impact the coronavirus inflicted on the travel industry would be a mistake, CellPoint Digital CEO Kristian Gjerding told Karen Webster in a recent ConnectedEconomy discussion, noting the importance of acknowledging the many advances we’ve rapidly adopted for the benefit of people and the planet.
“The response has actually been amazingly and really fast. The fact that they got all this cleaning, turning the planes around, keeping passengers safe, getting these digital tracking features, just shows that where there is a will, there is an ability to respond,” Gjerding told Webster.
That ability was hampered somewhat by the massive hit to their business the pandemic carried along with it. The airlines, he said, as they have many times before, are going to have to redesign their footing in terms of consumers coming back. But those consumers will come back, he said, because the reality is that you simply can’t see a Caribbean sunset anyplace but the Caribbean, no matter how high resolution a video you look at. In many cases, there is just no substitute for being there — and as consumers come back, what we can expect to see is “a lot of innovation.”
Innovation in booking, innovation in payments, innovations in loyalty — the industry is going to see significant change, with artificial intelligence (AI) putting the traveler at the center and operating from a digitized perspective where the simplicity of a transaction and the experience end-to-end is going matter more than it ever has.
“I think a lot of innovation is going to come into it. And I think that the operators who have the bandwidth to go there fast will win in the end,” Gjerding said.
The Innovative Future
Looking at Uber and how it disrupted the taxi business nearly out of existence over a few short years, Gjerding said, adding how it happened is obvious. Taking a taxi was a lousy experience, calling a cab company didn’t always yield a cab, paying with a card was often impossible and on the whole it was as far from customer-centric as could be. Uber’s real innovation, he said, was to recenter the consumer in the transaction — all they had to do was enter an end address and a payment method, and Uber did the rest of the work.
And that, in a nutshell, is the challenge every business must face as the economy is restarting — how to center the consumer in the commerce experience and leverage the technology of the connected economy to do it.
“I know airlines are looking at all different kinds of ways to partner up for new services to be part of the entire flow, so you create a single process for the traveler to get everything they need,” Gjerding said.
Bundling in travel, he noted, is far from new — but what is happening in the connected economy outstrips what we knew before. Bundling items like being able to book a flight and a meeting space for business at the same time, or being able to attach appropriate cancellation insurance, or arranging to have all of a traveler’s meals prepped and delivered to their hotel room while they are booking the room. It also means being able to access necessary information — what COVID-19 restrictions are in place at a destination, what cleaning protocols are in place and other information consumers want and need as they are booking travel that they can still have a very fragmented experience trying to put all together.
The connected future of travel, he said, will put all of these transactions into a single flow, manageable by a consumer in a single place. Instead of a bunch of disparate processes, the connected future of travel will better streamline all of that into a single process.
The Brave New World
This pandemic is coming to an end, but odds are good, Gjerding told Webster, that this isn’t the last pandemic we are going to see in our lifetimes. The new reality is that we may just need to accept that this is something we are going to have to be able to deal with that reality without shutting down the global economy by sending everyone home for a year.
“I think we need to just accept the fact that this is something we’ve got to be able to counter on a permanent basis, and we’re not going to be able to keep a society separated like we have done in the past year — we’ll kill everyone. And I do believe that operators who are capable of incorporating a whole range of services and who can incorporate that in the entire journey experience end to end are the operators that are going to winning going forward,” he said.