APAC tourism industry look to increase technology to recover from pandemic

Article, Lilia Guan, CIO Tech Asia

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Travel industry in APAC look to technology to ensure they survive the pandemic.
The global travel industry has taken a hard hit from COVID-19 lockdowns around the world. In September the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a new report that draws on UNWTO data to quantify the devastating impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on global tourism. It warns that up to 120 million tourism jobs are at risk, with the economic damage likely to exceed US$1 trillion in 2020 alone.

Due to restrictions imposed in March when the coronavirus started spreading rapidly around the world, international travel came to a screeching halt in April and May, resulting in international tourist arrivals that trailed last year’s total by almost 60 percent through the first five months of 2020. Depending on when travel restrictions will be fully lifted, the World Tourism Organization expects international tourism receipts (i.e. spending by international tourists) to drop between US$910 billion and US$1.2 trillion this year, which would set the global tourism industry back by 20 years.

However digital transformation can help the industry recover. As governments and industry plan for recovery in this new context and adapt to changing traveller behaviour, the use of digital identity and biometrics technologies could restore trust while also ensuring a seamless journey. However, these tools will only be effective if users feel that their data is protected. Privacy, consent, and transparent data governance must be at the heart of any technical solution.

Recently technology company Travelport signed six long-term agreements with travel agencies in Asia Pacific.

Three of the agreements are new wins: two in Greater China with EverExpress Travel Service and Kent Holidays Company Limited; and one in South Korea with Lotte Tour. The company has also renewed its partnerships with Richmond International Travel & Tours and Hong Kong Borabora Trading in Greater China, as well as IACE Travel in Japan.

As part of the multi-year agreements, Travelport will provide the agencies with real-time access to a broad range of high-quality content from around 400 airlines, more than 300 global hotel brands, and over 37,000 car rental locations worldwide. In addition, the companies will benefit from Travelport’s cutting-edge search, automation, shopping and booking technologies, while accessing valuable data, business logic and profiling functionality via a single platform.

Lotte Tour, a leading travel conglomerate in South Korea, will also be using Travelport’s Branded Fares Data File; while EverExpress Travel Service, a major player in Taichung, Taiwan, will be using Travelport’s Branded Fares and Ancillary Services. These merchandizing solutions will allow both agencies to differentiate content from the over 275 airlines globally signed up to Travelport Rich Content and Branding, displaying, and selling branded fare families and ancillary products with rich visuals and text.

Richmond International Travel & Tours, one of the largest travel agencies in Taiwan, will also continue to participate in initiatives driven by Travelport involving the New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard. NDC is a travel industry-supported program launched by IATA that will enable the travel industry to transform the way air products are retailed to corporations, leisure, and business travellers.

It’s not just the travel agency companies pushing for digital transformation. Singapore Airlines in October announced that it had become the launch airline for the digital version of the Star Alliance Connection Service.

The Star Alliance Connection Service was introduced in 2017 to facilitate time critical flight connections between Star Alliance member airlines and, until now, has required dedicated staff support to assist affected passengers in transferring between flights.
The digital version of the Star Alliance Connection Service embeds in the participating member airline’s mobile app, providing updated transfer information and intuitive navigational services through the customer’s smartphone at major hub airports, without further intervention.

Information provided by the digital version includes the optimum route from the arrival to the departure gate, as well as distance and time needed to get there. In the case of critical connections, passengers receive a digital express connection card that allows expedited passage through certain checkpoints.
Star Alliance adopted the Airline Accelerator technology of Living Map, a UK-based digital location and mapping specialist, whose advanced indoor positioning product provides the foundation for each customised customer routing within the airport terminal.

In November, the airline announced that it had created a new arm that will offer training programmes in the broad areas of service excellence, operational excellence, organisational innovation, and digital transformation to external businesses and organisations.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) also signed several digital initiatives to help push transformation in the industry, including Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan).

Stan is a data analytics platform to view visualisations and perform analysis on tourism-related data, aggregated from STB and the industry, to derive actionable insights about Singapore’s visitors.

Stan allows users to gain access to the latest tourism data in visualisations. The platform has an automated built-in visual analytics tool, which aggregates tourism data into graphs and figures. Users can dynamically filter or drill down the data by various parameters such as visitor traits, geography, and time frame to derive insights.

The latest Visitor Arrivals data is made available from April 2020. More tourism data will be added to Stan subsequently in the next 2 years. These include:

  • Annual Tourism Receipts
  • Hotel Statistics
  • Annual Cruise Statistics

In October, STB launched The Tourism Transformation Index, which is a self-assessment tool that was developed specifically for the tourism sector.

It is designed to guide Singapore tourism organisations regardless of size and industries to future proof businesses by providing a holistic diagnosis of the current state of transformation, information about where the business stand among industry peers and recommendations to stay relevant and thrive.

According to an industry report by intelligence platform provider, Skift and AWS, digital-savvy customers expect much more from their favourite brands, forcing a re-examination of the role that digital plays in learning from customer habits, nurturing customer interactions, and developing more personalised experiences.

Digital is also revolutionising the internal operations of travel and hospitality companies from all sectors as they look for ways to be more efficient, make better business decisions based on data, and better serve their customers.

No matter which business priority or strategy they choose whether it’s focusing on the customer experience or streamlining internal operations, it’s clear that digital processes and tools play an important role in the process, one that will accelerate in the future.