The world is experiencing rapid change. Ten years ago, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had just been founded. There was no WhatsApp or Snapchat. No iPhones, smart watches, or Android devices. Technology has evolved more in the last decade than it has in the last century: the world of 2016 has changed drastically.

This means that people have changed, too. Working patterns are different, leisure time is spent doing different activities in different places, and behavioural patterns across demographics are massively different.

To be at the forefront of these changes from a travel industry perspective, we need to know what they are, how they affect travellers, and above all, what’s going to happen next. Above all, we must stay relevant. This is what we’re calling the “revolution to stay relevant.” Amidst the noise of modern digital life, it’s essential to rise above and claim the most promising opportunities.

The democratisation of travel through technology

It is no secret that the democratisation of personal transport and holiday accommodation has forever changed travel. We still can’t go five minutes without hearing about Airbnb or Uber. Although these were both truly disruptive companies around seven years ago, what they accomplished was by no means black magic.

These companies’ successes came not from the technology itself, but from solving pressing problems for travellers.

The application of technology to solve retail problems, combined with the drive to experiment, has led these companies to disrupt organically. Is that the silver bullet?

In theory, yes.

Anyone can be disruptive if they know what people want. We need to be bold and innovate, rather than just being “fast followers.” We need to adopt the latest technology innovations quickly and wholeheartedly. By embracing innovations alongside deep understanding of customer needs, there are highly quantifiable ways to disrupt organically.

Generation Z: the travellers of tomorrow

Anyone born after 1995 has grown up with technology we previously thought we would never see, making them far more open to the adoption of new innovations. They always want to try new things, and learn for themselves. They often value flexibility over higher salaries or prestigious roles. High-speed internet and content on demand has made them crave instant gratification – and expect it.

RELATEDHow Millennials and Gen Z consume content in the Dreaming stage of the travel journey

We can use this information to anticipate what the next generation wants. Then we can build a plan on how best to give it to them. Rather than play catch up, we can be prepared.

Encouraging ease and flexibility when it comes to booking travel options allows Generation Z to make their own choices about how they engage with us. Offering glanceable information, sub-second response times, and offering earlier loyalty incentives satisfies their need for instant gratification.

Be big. And very, very clever!

The ability to capture, cross-reference and leverage data to meet customer needs isn’t a new phenomenon. The likes of Amazon, Tesco and Google have been doing it for years. But which data is the most worthwhile to properly inform our customer service strategies?

It’s quite comforting to know that the traditional customer survey method is still both widely used and reasonably effective, as is the use of demographics data. Some of the more untapped data sources include social media feedback, analysing customers’ previous transactions, listening to opinions and attitudes, and implicit mobile device data.

The keys to collecting and using big data effectively are to know the difference between useful, actionable data and simply interesting data with no real customer insights.

With all these different datasets, it’s surprising to discover that a lot of us already have a wealth of facts and figures in our banks. We’re just not using it effectively. This means either we’re not using it at all, collecting it too infrequently, targeting the wrong customers at the wrong times, or simply not having the in-house expertise to interpret it properly.

Travel companies must adapt and employ the best people to differentiate between useful, actionable data they can then turn into effective insights.

So what’s the future? It’s the intent wrapped in context!

The future? Context and intent.

Soon, we’ll be able to measure what any traveller wants before they ask for it. By cross-referencing old data points with the likes of voice recognition, offline beacon technology, and implicit mobile device data, we will be able to anticipate what individual travellers want and deliver it in the most timely and effective method relevant to them. I’d say that’s pretty disruptive.

That’s not all, though. There are quite a few things we can already be doing with the data we have.

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Not acting on available data is common across the industry

No doubt you’ll have heard the phrase personalisation before. It’s become a buzzword in travel, and refers to the process of using what we know about the traveler (the data) to influence their purchasing and travelling experiences. After all, travel is largely a romantically-charged, heart-over-head affair. By appealing to their personal emotions at every stage of the journey, the resulting feelgood factor will pay dividends in the long run.

Personalisation can improve so many metrics right across the board, from email click-through rates and conversions to average order values. It’s also not that different from what any good marketing company should be doing already.

All we need to do is figure out who we’re targeting, what their individual journeys consist of, and how we can make them more relevant, more comfortable, and more familiar.

The fact is, the future isn’t even really the future when it comes to travel. It’s  already here. The need for personalisation, data analytics, cross-platform engagement, and planning for Gen Zs are all aspects of travel we should be pursuing right now.

The likes of Uber and Airbnb used smart data to identify insights into their customers’ wants and needs. In meeting those, they became disruptive organically.

Whatever the future holds for travel, we must meet it head on. Keep an eye on these trends, retire the “fast follower” status, and boldly go into the unknown. This is how we’ll find ourselves becoming naturally disruptive.

For more data, research and perspective from industry leaders on staying relevant in today’s dynamic business environment, download this new report