Who remembers booking a holiday in the days before everyone had a computer at home or a smartphone glued to their hand? It was a pain. A real, real pain.
I remember my mum poring over outdated guide books, trying to find the perfect ski resort; one with good ski schools, family-friendly accommodation and a nearby airport. She’d ring up six hotels to discover the prices were way too high and have to go back to the drawing board. When we’d finally find somewhere there was still more phone calls; to airlines, to travel insurance brokers, to car rentals. It would take days of planning.
In contrast, I just organised my summer holiday to the United States. A few clicks (and quite a few Euro later) and my entire trip was sorted.
It’s not just that travel has got easier; digitalisation has also transformed the way we travel. It’s become a much more personalised experience too. Just think about apps like Airbnb and VizEat, both of which connect travellers with locals to offer a more authentic and cheaper way of travelling. On a more basic level, more people have been able to move away from package holidays and organise every aspect of their trip, from hotels to sightseeing on their own.
Technology offers incredible levels of transparency compared to the pre-digital age. Take low cost airline Ryanair, for example. Much though we moan about its baggage charges, the way it break downs the cost of the journey on the screen in front of us gives consumers a better understanding of where prices come from and what we should be paying. And we’re much savvier for it. Most of us now know to scour pages like Skyscanner and Kayak to find the best value airfares and airlines have to keep their prices competitive if they want to survive.
Social media is another factor. It has had a big impact on the way travel companies carry out their customer care, with dedicated customer service teams ready to handle complaints on Twitter and Facebook. And because companies are so keen to keep up appearances on social media channels, they usually respond more proactively to tweets than they do to phone calls or emails. Plus, it lets holiday makers hold firms to account. Just think about that video of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight earlier this year. A decade ago, they might just have got away with it.
While consumers have seen huge benefits from technology, companies have had to adapt, changing their business models to reflect the way we travel now. Their websites have to be mobile friendly, their prices competitive and their employees social media savvy. Those who have kept up with the changes are flourishing, others are struggling to keep up. But one thing is for sure: the travel industry has been well and truly transformed.