Google has been making new headlines in travel with the announcement of their merger of various capabilities into their Trips app.
Amazon recently began offering domestic flight booking in India, a significant step for a company that always plays the long game.
Meanwhile, Apple sits on a vast travel patent trove, has a bounty in Wallet and Apple Pay and a $40+ billion services business whose growth is just beginning.
And Airbnb has hired a respected industry veteran as global head of transportation with a vision that clearly extends far beyond their origins.
Like most things these companies do, recent developments are likely just a step in the evolution of their respective businesses, not an end point.
Travel is a multi-trillion-dollar global business that is just too enormous to ignore. Expect these companies to invest whatever it takes to become immensely important travel brands.
Old era, new era
When it comes to transformation, no incumbent brand will be spared the implications of the changes they bring that benefit users.
We will see these players and others become more visible in the scope of their ambitions and capabilities in the years ahead.
Having worked in leadership roles for decades in travel – as an executive at two global airlines; running the Sabre GDS business as it expanded globally; starting Orbitz when Google was also very young; and now leading an emerging travel technology company called Journera – I have lived through immense technological change (not to mention deregulation on two continents).
With that perspective, I believe that we are in the early days of an important new era for travel.
Simply put, we spent the last two decades in the Transaction Era – making it easier to find and book the elements of a trip.
There will always be more work to do on these “basics” of getting product right and making it easier to transact business with customers.
But we are now entering the Experience Era – making travel experiences better across the entirety of the journey.
This is the white space in our industry and to ignore it is to ignore the obvious.
Recognizing the shape of the Experience Era is important because this is where a company like Google (and the others) have an ability to transform the life of a traveler and a great deal of what we know about how travel works.
It would be wrong to see Google Trips as just another evolution of the online travel agency or metasearch.
We don’t need more metasearch. Nor will a slick voice-OTA matter much to the weary traveler whose flight is late, seat and room preferences aren’t available, car is stuck in the holding lot, whose room isn’t ready and whose go-to restaurant is closed for the night.
The Experience Era will be one where travel companies realize that we’re not looking for better apps; we are looking for travel that is more seamless, that is more personal, and where companies care that we are on a journey and we want it all to just “work.”
Going the extra mile is the new normal
A severe thunderstorm in May is a small case in point. On that day, our experience management platform identified thousands of travelers who endured hotel disruptions as a result of flight delays or cancellations. Those hotel rooms were spread across 42 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.
For the affected travelers, the Experience Era offers the promise of automatic re-booking or alternative accommodations, pre-scheduled ground transportation and hotel meal delivery, and the opportunity to make an act of God seem more like there is someone watching over you.
The good news is that there is still time for the industry to get aligned with the new Experience Era.
In many ways, the big brands of travel have huge advantages in the vast experience of their teams, their deeply vetted operational skill, their customer relationships and asset networks, and even in the data that they uniquely see and manage.
Those who understand the power and possibility of those assets to create journey value – rather than just a provide a flight, a room, a car or an App – will get their fair share of the rewards from the entire journey.
I predict we will see yet another great success for Google in travel– and we’ll see other capable companies joining them.
I also predict that traditional brands will not ignore the Experience Era. They will begin measuring how they make the traveler’s entire journey better and look expansively at the ways they can do so.
While there are powerful new players in the industry who cannot be ignored, those that follow the journey will be following the money.