While Booking and Expedia continue to dominate the online travel agency (OTA) industry, the OTA market is ripe with competition, innovation, and disruption as we head into 2020. Kiwi.com just went from OTA to virtual global supercarrier, talk about category creation!
With some new perspectives after November’s Phocuswright Conference and insights from another great year of working with leading global travel brands, here’s what we think is in store for OTAs in 2020.
1. The race to provide the best customer experience heats up
Customer experience has been a top priority for travel companies for a while. It will become paramount for OTAs as they struggle to stay relevant in a highly competitive market.
We believe the best way for OTAs to meet and exceed customers’ expectations is through conversation. However, many companies are turning to call centers and human-powered live chats as the foundation of their strategy. Is putting customers on hold five minutes or having them wait two minutes for a response the experience you want associated with your brand in 2020? The good news is that a new generation of AI chatbots allows OTAs to quickly and cost-effectively offer the instant, personalized support that their customers crave.
According to Gartner, “Twenty-five percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than two percent in 2017.”
If you haven’t started to include chatbot technology in your customer service and sales strategy, you’re behind. Only OTAs who can provide excellent customer experiences, delighting and serving travelers useful information at every turn, will succeed.
2. Automation becomes the norm
No one knows better than OTAs that performance goes hand in hand with speed. Automation is the best way for companies to provide the responsiveness that their customers expect.
While automation can take many forms on both the front and back end, chatbots are an interesting way to see quick automation wins. Until recently, chatbots did little more than to frustrate users. Built on unreliable technology and poorly implemented and maintained, it’s no wonder that chatbots have a bad rap. Mindsay and other providers are here to change that with practical, specialized bots that help actually solve customers’ problems. For OTAs, an AI-powered chatbot allows your customers to manage their bookings, check-in, file claims, and retrieve invoices and itineraries directly within the bot.
In 2019, chatbots have gone from a poorly executed fad to a requirement if you want to properly serve customers. We predict that by the end of 2020, every major OTA will have a chatbot on at least of one of the channels where it interacts with its customers. According to research from Travelport, chat is the top channel travelers want to use to contact an OTA for booking questions, and 42% of travelers expect to be able to chat with an OTA via their website or app.
3. The benefits of NDC can't be ignored
While NDC has yet to revolutionalize the travel industry, OTAs will soon see the benefits of being NDC-ready. OTAs who embrace NDC will be able to get an edge by serving their customers more personalized, rich content.
Being ready means having the right APIs in place and GDSs, like Sabre and Amadeus, can help. For example, Sabre is already working with OTAs like Flight Centre. Jason Nooning, General Manager, Global Air Distribution at Flight Centre Travel Group, recently said, “If I could fast-forward to two years into the future and get through all the pain of change, I think it’s really exciting to see some of the new functionalities implemented into existing workflows.”
4. Be global, act local
OTAs will look to expand their international footprints in 2020, but will require deep understanding of the new markets to grow successfully.
Serving customers in their local language is crucial to gaining a foothold and even more important to retaining customers. Conversational AI tools, like Mindsay, can communicate in over 110 languages, providing easily scalable support for new markets.
5. The emergence of voice
According to Travelport Digital, 39% of travelers have used voice assistants during a trip, primarily for inquiries around flight status and check-in. Business travelers, in particular, have a penchant for voice with 81% claiming to have used voice assistants while traveling.
In their daily lives, consumers are using voice assistants frequently. 45% of people use them on a regular basis. Of those, 25% use them once a week while 20% use them every day.
While voice may still be a couple of years away from being the dominant trend, the opportunity here for OTAs is huge. As chatbot usage becomes normalized, the natural evolution in customer support is voice bots. OTAs that can get ahead of this trend may find themselves with a significant competitive advantage in a couple of years.