Credit: TheWordFinder

Digital is transforming all industries. Businesses are becoming ever more digital. In travel, you may still be selling holidays, flights or accommodation but the way you do it has radically changed over the last 20 years and will continue to do so as we move into 2019.

The most advanced travel companies are establishing entirely new digital-only products and services. Thanks to automation and machine learning, they’re evolving what they do at rates that are magnitudes greater than ever before.

What does it mean to be a travel company in 2019? Here’s The Rough Guide.

1. Business model

The 2019 travel company is a digital business. There’s board-level representation of digital and there are leadership roles that don’t just understand and live digital but continuously push the boundaries of what it can do for the business.

Digital sales of travel products continue to dominate your income. If you’re doing a good job of brand building in the digital age, you’ll be increasing the share of direct, however, for most companies, sales will be largely indirect and via third party platforms like, Expedia, Skyscanner or Kayak.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The reason businesses like Booking and Expedia have grown to be by far the largest in travel worldwide is that they’ve built digital platforms for other travel companies to reside on. They’re technology businesses that happen to operate in the travel industry.

Gross bookings worldwide for Booking Holdings and Expedia Group 2010-2017 (billions)

Not every travel business can do this but you can adopt a platform mindset. Make it easy to integrate with third parties, provide a means for ancillary sales and establish APIs to enable tech startups and other businesses to develop new products and services to market.

Very few brands survive by going it alone. Low-cost airlines initially fought to be excluded from meta-search engines to avoid paying commissions but soon caved in. Premier Inn is an exception in the industry, driving 87% of their sales direct.

Now, airlines like Lufthansa and hotel chains like Hilton are incentivising customers to book direct, but they’re not leaving aggregators altogether. Some travel operators are even implementing meta-search on their own sites, showing different purchasing options and even competitors in order to add transparency and prevent consumers searching elsewhere.

Hilton’s Stop Clicking Around campaign encouraged customers to book direct

A platform mindset goes even further with blockchain. Hotel chains and airlines are lowering distribution costs and raising additional revenue by using blockchain-based platforms like Winding Tree for inventory.

The 2019 travel company continues to fuel digital. It enables a culture of innovation, is open to explore new digital activations and partnerships and invests deeply in areas of high growth potential.

2. Business performance

It’s a great time to be a travel company. Economic uncertainty, Brexit, fuel prices and terrorism threats put pressure on business, of course, but people are still travelling.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism contributed $8.3 trillion to global GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 4% in 2018. The opportunities to grow a successful travel company in 2019 have never been better. Most of that growth will come from digital. By 2022, IDC forecasts that 80% of enterprise revenue growth will depend directly on digital offerings and operations.

Digitally-mature travel businesses are generating more sales of existing products, establishing new digital revenue streams and increasing profitability. Efficiency is critical to profitability but also to remain competitive on price. Ryanair has shown how price-driven people are, continually growing sales and profitability despite providing a very basic, poor overall service (it scores just 1.1 out of 10 on Trustpilot).

What’s the secret to lowering costs and optimising sales without degrading the customer experience? Both Expedia and have put machine learning at the heart of their operations to continually, automatically, rapidly and cost-effectively adapt to changing consumer behaviour.

Thanks to digital, the 2019 travel company is experiencing strong sales growth and is becoming increasingly more effective in driving profitability.

3. Customer satisfaction

Delivering an exceptional experience is the smartest investment for travel businesses to make. A single bad experience handled in the wrong way can severely dent or even bring down a travel business. Shares in United Airlines fell by 4% wiping $1 billion off the company’s market value following the violent removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight in 2017.

93% of travellers globally claim their booking decisions are impacted by reviews. People make their assessment of a hotel or restaurant in seconds based on customer ratings and photos on TripAdvisor.

In the UK, is the highest rated travel company and one of the greatest improvers in YouGov’s BrandIndex 2018, the leading measure of overall brand health.

In the US, Expedia tops the list, with four of its subsidiary brands also in the top seven.

KLM has consistently recognised the importance of delivering a delightful experience for its customers using technology. They’ve pioneered the use of social media, machine learning, voice and Augmented Reality (AR) for customer care. More than 50% of KLM’s online enquiries are now supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

KLM’s AI provided by DigitalGenius automates answers or suggests them to agents and learns over time

Travellers value companies that invest in technology to create a seamless and rewarding customer experience.

The 2019 travel business isn’t simply reactive to negative reviews, it continually optimises what it does to ensure its customers have a positive experience. It encourages its customers to not just give feedback but actively endorse and market the company to others, without being pushy.

Providing a good experience has knock on effects that benefit the business in other ways. Other brands are more likely to partner with you. People will want to work for you. Your reputation will precede you, and if you can scale, you’ll never have to turn people away.

4. Digital experiences

Your website is unlikely to attract the greatest share of audience engagement with your brand.

The 2019 travel business maintains a number of digital products from websites to social channels, email marketing, mobile and tablet apps and voice apps for instance.

Beyond online sales of physical products, you’ll have new products & services that are entirely digital – a virtual travel companion or concierge, or a platform for peer-to-peer travel services.

Your digital experiences are as important as your physical ones, perhaps even more so as they persist before and after travel as well as during. There’s also a growing interplay between the physical and the digital.

AR plays an increasing role in travel. Apple’s latest ARKit has enabled services like Kayak’s baggage measurement tool.

You may provide Internet of things (IoT) services. For example, a hotel app that gives direct access to guests’ rooms, allows them to adjust the temperature before and during their stay and instantly stream their favourite shows on the TV. Similar services may be provided for rental cars as well as managing appliances and security remotely back home.

OpenKey provides a platform for hotel chains to give access to rooms via an app (credit: SALTO Systems)

Although you’ll own multiple digital properties, you’ll also be reliant on third parties to contribute and distribute products and services to maximise reach to your target audience.

You’ll make regular use of influencers to endorse and extend the presence of your business including satisfied customers, social media stars and partner travel services. You’ll use paid media intelligently to engage the highest value prospects and you’ll use APIs to both provide and consume services.

The 2019 travel company maintains a balance of owned, earned, paid and participating digital experiences, connecting with consumers in the channels and ways they want.

5. Customer data

Getting access to more and better customer data is one of the most important goals for the 2019 travel company. The likes of and Airbnb have gone out of their way to limit direct interactions with hosts and customers. When it comes to maintaining an ongoing relationship, accommodation providers are often left out in the cold.

Booking’s Pulse app for accommodation providers enables messaging without revealing contact details

If you’re 100% reliant on third parties to acquire customers, sell and fulfil your products and nurture an ongoing relationship with them, then perhaps customer data isn’t important to you. But no company in 2019 is in this position. It’s a high risk and high cost strategy to rely on third parties.

Collect implicit and explicit customer data at every appropriate opportunity. Give control to people for GDPR compliance and consumer empowerment over the marketing they receive.

Use data to personalise experiences. Make people feel part of product development by knowing that their feedback is taken into account.

Use machine learning and predictive algorithms to analyse pooled data about the behaviour and attitudes of travellers to determine patterns and optimise experiences.

The 2019 travel company continually collects permissioned customer data and uses it to grow repeat bookings, increase ancillary sales, improve the customer experience and reduce costs.

Inspired to travel to 2019?

Being a travel company in 2019 is about embracing new business models, using digital to transform your business performance, delivering an exceptional customer experience, harnessing a growing suite of digital experiences and mastering the use of customer data.

The last flight to 2019 is ready for boarding.

Are you already at your destination, on your way there or still stuck at home?

Get your digital audit and upgrade your travel company for the year ahead.