Like most other customer-facing industries, tourism is one area that is undergoing massive technology-led transformations that are changing the rules of the game for
enterprises in the space. In an interaction with Dataquest, Chris Bayley, Group CIO of TUI Group, known to be the World’s largest integrated tourism company, shares his deep insights on how fast evolving technology trends are reshaping the way forward for the global tourism industry. Excerpts
How do you see the evolving trends in travel and tourism impacting technology spending in the sector?
I think there are mainly three trends. The first is around customer flexibility. In the past, travel and tourism was mostly about companies organizing things and making them available to customers. Customers had very little choice. Today there is customer flexibility. The customer now chooses—whether it is the destination, duration, or other things. From a technology spending point of view, I see companies in this space investing in customer platforms, investing in big data to better understand customers and their needs. Also in terms of mobile and social the key trend is you are able to engage with customers in the way they want to engage.
So I think customer flexibility is the first major trend affecting the industry. The next one I call ‘My holiday’. Holidays in tourism used to be fairly standard and fairly fixed, but now it is much more personalized to me, where ‘me’ is the customer. In tourism whether you are a tour operator or whether you are an airline or hotelier, there is a base offer and then there are many added services. Tourism organizations are understanding that there is a lot of value not just for customers, but for companies in offering those services.
From a technology spending point of view, there can be some differences. Things like flexible inventory, starting to offer products and services that are not directly from your own company, offers that you need to partner with other companies for. That can require integration—that is another technology area, making sure things are not only available but happens very quickly.
The third is about entering new markets. Numbers of customers will now come from different geographies and there are different customer types and different behaviours. From a tech point of view that drives certain changes and developments into global tourism companies which they need to be able to scale. In terms of types of infrastructure, cloud-based solutions, etc, the right IT infrastructure is needed to be able to enter new markets
quickly and effectively.
What do you think are the major technology disruptions impacting the global tourism space?
An increasingly connected world across the globe means that amid people’s expectations, the disruption and the change—businesses have to become increasingly digital. By that I mean having the right mobile as well as online strategy, having the right social capabilities, also having the right content. I think those changes are driving much more investment in tourism companies in customer facing technology or systems of engagement areas, in addition to systems of records or the back end type systems.
One of the other changes or disruptions is about advanced customer insights. The tourism industry is one where across the different organizations we deal with many, many millions of customers and each of those customers wants to be treated as an individual. With the use of customer decision systems—and those types of technology changes as they get more sophisticated and advanced—I think there is a lot of opportunity for companies to provide much better insight and provide information and offers etc to customers on a much more personalized
Another significant trend is IoT. IoT is an emerging technology change that could really affect the tourism industry. Everything that we could think of, like how baggage is handled at the airport, or to how a customer opens the hotel door, to how they might pay for something at the hotel or aircraft, will see a lot of changes in the coming years.
Tell us about how TUI is using analytics to better serve its customers?
Analytics is an important area for TUI, because we have a lot of data, based upon dealing with many millions of customers in different geographies. So we are able to understand through analytics, different patterns of behaviour and we are able to start looking at things like decision engines. This helps us better understand the next best question or the next best piece of information. I think the area that we will expand upon going forward is customer interactions driven by analytics. We have some very established data warehousing kind of capabilities, as the foundation for our analytics.
What do you see as the major challenges in digital transformation?
Digital transformation is something many companies recognize as a real opportunity but also as a threat. In terms of how we approach that, as a large organization we face the normal challenges of any large organization in any industry and we have to challenge ourselves to be quick,
we have to learn fast, invest and learn from customers based on their feedback. That’s something we are doing well. We are learning how to experiment in a very controlled way. A big challenge for both new entrants and established companies is around people and skills. Most companies will be fairly new in handling mobile and digital— the demand for experienced people will be very high. So again we approach that in a specific way to attract and retain staff. We will have growing pains but as an established company we have very high degree of knowledge and experience in the tourism industry. By complementing that with digital we can be even better. And that’s very much the intention of the company.
What is the key ingredient of TUI’s digital transformation?
I would say the key ingredient is to be customer driven. I know that is easier said than done. Because it can very much challenge the way you run internal processes or even the products you offer. If we get that right, then I think we can have a successful recipe. A lot of our activity
internally is to truly understand our customers. And we also have approaches and processes to develop and deploy solutions that incorporate customer feedback. I think being able to truly understand the customer and serving his individual needs is really a key ingredient about being successful in a digital transformation.
From your rich experience as a CIO, what are the key insights you would want to share with the global CIO community?
In this new technology era, there are many many opportunities. The first insight is—when there are many opportunities it’s very important to select the key ones and make sure they are executed well. Much better to do that than trying to do too many things. One of the important things for CIOs in this age is to help other executives understand the opportunities and threats of new technologies by speaking about things and understanding things in business terms and customer terms, rather than describing how the technology works. I truly believe that CIOs can help the business think differently. There is a great opportunity to influence and shape businesses. Now is the time to make sure that you understand the business and that your voice is heard.
Also, one should look across the industries for opportunities that exist, look for similarities, where somebody has done something well even if it is in a different industry. At times people would be surprised by what they find and what they could apply to their industries.
Have a broad perspective across sectors, don’t just stay within yours, especially when technology is moving so quickly.
Big data and analytics are at the potential stage but most companies have still not tapped it and that has a long way to go. I think mobile and social are not going away. Even in things like IoT, we have just seen the beginning and there will be much more to come. Each of these technologies would be playing a big role in how we progress going forward.