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Comment: Why airlines must smooth the new path to truly frictionless travel

Tim Hentschel, co-founder and chief executive of HotelPlanner

When I reached out to the World Aviation Festival organizers earlier this year, they wondered why a chief exec from a hotel booking platform would be interested in speaking to the aviation industry. I had three reasons.

First, I wanted to convey that almost everything the aviation industry does has a downstream effect on hospitality, and that my industry should not be an afterthought.

Our industries are incredibly interconnected and mutually interdependent. Hotels and Online Travel Agencies rely on a thriving, safe, predictable, and reliable aviation ecosystem, not only to maintain daily profitability, but to anticipate and meet ever-fluctuating demand.

Second, our industries must work more closely together if we are going to meet future travel demand and evolving traveller expectations.

If ‘frictionless travel’ is the shared vision, how do we get there? Historically, our industries have been quite siloed with respect to data sharing and tech integration.

In general, we don’t share the same Global Distribution System or API connections. Simply put, achieving frictionless travel will require our industries to stop operating in a vacuum.

Third, I wanted to do business. It’s been long established that airlines are often top of the list when customers buy travel.

Traditionally it went flight, hotel, ground transportation, things to do. Some airlines have made a lot of money from the selling of rooms to guests, but it has often come at the cost of selling someone else’s brand and it cannot be described as seamless.

I believe the technology is now in place to really make this work and drive mutually profitable relationships.

That’s why I believe now is the time to start integrating our industries through more real-time connectivity and data sharing.

We’ll need open-architecture solutions that anyone can adapt, while also ensuring customer privacy and data security. Let’s come together, share what we can, and unlock new pathways toward greater collaboration.

Why now? Because more than 19 billion travellers are expected to pass through global airports annually by 2040, according to an Oliver Wyman report, with a 5.8% annual growth rate in passenger flow between now and 2024.  Will we be ready for such a massive increase in demand?

Artificial Intelligence will surely play a critical role. We’re only beginning to explore what an AI-enabled travel and hospitality ecosystem might look like.

But we know for sure that AI will be used to further customise and personalise the end-to-end travel experience, and for customer predictive analytics.

Speaking of our customers, 2022 was a record year for travel and hospitality. It’s unlikely we’ll see another year like that for some time.

In 2023, we’re seeing the travel supply and demand curve smooth out at scale. In other words, it’s becoming somewhat easier to anticipate demand fluctuations as travellers return to their pre-pandemic routines.

The big uncertainty for travellers remains the ongoing delays and disruptions across the aviation ecosystem.

When major disruptions occur, people have less confidence in the reliability (or safety) of the airport or airline. So, strengthening and maintaining traveller confidence will be critical as we move toward a future state of frictionless travel.

As airlines continue to increase their inventory and routes in the coming years, hoteliers should consider how and where they’re going to source their demand while being ready for unanticipated disruptions.

In turn, the airline industry would benefit from stronger data connections to hub city hotels, and the Online Travel Agencies that support them.

My sincere hope is that the next generation of customer data solutions integrates the travellers’ end-to-end experience – from search and booking and getting there, to the hotel stay and returning home. It’s all part of the interconnected traveller journey and travel ecosystem.

In conclusion, let’s continue to expand the dialogue between the aviation and hospitality sectors.

Let’s challenge each other to collaborate better so both our industries become smarter and more agile over time.

If we work better together in the years ahead, our customers will certainly thank us for it.

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