Technology continues to innovate how travellers are preparing for and enjoying their journeys, or how hotels are adapting to their guests’ changing preferences. So far, there has been much hype around travel disruptors such as Airbnb and Uber. However, the continual foray of tech giants into the travel space is what should be grabbing our attention right now.
Competition is actually coming in now from big technology players. The huge growth potential in the online travel space, particularly in Asia-Pacific, is attracting their attention.
Take the case of Google and Alibaba, who are already very much in the travel space. Combine the search engine giant’s complex algorithm with its products like Google Flights, Google Hotel Finder and Google Trips, and you will see how the company is slowly and steadily climbing up the trip-planning funnel. In the $2.3 trillion contributed to the global economy by travel and tourism, Google already has a large share of the pie. The company has been developing travel tools in the last four years, and is even starting to make them official. For instance, Google Flights came out way back in 2011, but they re-designed and launched the tool only in 2015, replete with exciting new features. The company has now made it easier for users to check out important hotel details such as rates, locations and reviews. Google users can also book some hotels directly while searching for particular properties. Moreover, when a user types in a query for a particular destination, Google also displays a list at the top of the page that provides travellers information about popular sightseeing locations.
Alibaba’s Fliggy is not far behind. The company recently announced a joint venture partnership with Marriott International to redefine the travel experience for the hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers traveling abroad and domestically every year. The joint venture will leverage Marriott International’s global portfolio of brands and unparalleled hospitality expertise to revolutionize the travel experience as well as Alibaba’s digital retail leadership and its role as a gateway for international brands to reach over 500 million mobile monthly active users across its platforms. Drawing on resources from both Marriott and Alibaba, the joint venture will manage Marriott’s storefront on Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel service platform. It will also market directly to Alibaba’s customer base, provide a link between Marriott’s loyalty programs and Alibaba’s loyalty program, and support Marriott hotels globally with content, programs and promotions customized for the Chinese traveller.
We can also see non-traditional travel actors in payments space or general online retailing, like the Amazons of the world, developing the travel component. Closer home, Paytm is an example. On the back of raising $1.4 billion from SoftBank, Paytm is making aggressive moves to challenge existing players in verticals like travel and hotels with the help of deep discounts.
And we will keep seeing many others in the space, too. Travel is a very interesting space for many of them as it is accessible for anyone who has online retailing experience. There is definitely a good basis to build a travel marketplace then. Moreover, considering that companies like Apple and Google already own 90 per cent of the mobile ecosystem, it allows these tech giants to easily capture travel data and get insights on what they’re looking for. Plus, the tech companies are heavily leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to draw insights from that data in real time to create optimized results.
Calling attention to the areas that are broken in the current systems is precisely what tech companies are now doing. This, however, does not spell doom for the traditional players. In fact, with tech giants attacking weaknesses, it gives the industry an opportunity to wake up and think about change, thus making them more open to the adoption of new technology. And that is always going to be a win-win for everyone.