How is Technology Changing the Travel Experience?


Welcome back to our ongoing series of conversations between influential bloggers from a range of fields, and experts from Adobe. These unique encounters offer insight into how end consumers feel about digital marketing, including how and when targeting is effective, what makes for an appealing campaign, and how marketing affects whether these all-important influencers spread the word about specific products and platforms.
Our featured blogger is Abi King (AK). In 2007, after five and a half years as a hospital doctor, Abi decided to follow her dream of becoming a writer, and Inside the Travel Lab was born. This luxury travel blog is described as one of the best travel blogs in the world by National Geographic Traveller and Lonely Planet. She’s s an award-winning journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, Lonely Planet, the BBC, Red, CNN and more.
She spoke to John Watton (JW), senior director of marketing for Adobe in Europe. John has more than twenty years’ experience in enterprise technology, SaaS and eCommerce marketing. He’s a regular speaker and blogger on digital marketing, and a member of the IDM B2B Marketing Council and Business Marketing Collective Executive Council. Follow him @jwatton.
AK: My name is Abigail King. I’m the founder of Inside the Travel Lab, one of the leading travel blogs in the world. I’m here in London at Adobe’s offices to have a behind the scenes look at digital marketing. And here today I’m here with John Watton. John, hello.
JW:  Hi Abi how you doing?
AK: Very well thanks. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
JW:  You’re welcome.
AK: Today we’re going to talk about experience businesses. This is the term I’ve heard a lot about, but before I get to that can you tell me what do you do for Adobe?
JW:  Sure, well I’m the senior director of marketing in Europe. Put quite simply, I help Adobe really connect with our customers here, and convey a lot of what we’re doing around experience business, so hopefully I’ll have a lot to say about that with you.
AK: Okay, so would you say then that an experience business, if I was booking a hotel, it’s not just a hotel stay it’s how I book the hotel?
JW:  Yes exactly. So I think it’s moving from that, transactional way of thinking, that your role is to optimise the purchasing of a hotel stay, or a flight, making sure that hotel stay itself or the flight is amazing, and that’s it. I think consumers are more demanding now, they expect stuff before the trip, so before the hotel stay, especially for the millennial generation, it’s all about the experience.
Almost the least important thing about their hotel stay is the hotel itself. It’s everything they can do around it—it’s an enabler, to allow them to have a great city stay, safari or a cruise, or whatever it is.  It’s fair to say [that] it’s thinking about those things that you wouldn’t think about, so making those experiences aware to the traveller before they go, so they can plan their trip and maximise their time there.
It’s beyond just giving the great experience when you’re buying things. It’s about trying to think before the trip and actually, then, extending afterwards, because of course we all want to share our trips. We want to post on social media. So how do you enable that as a travel company, and make sure that you’re giving the best experience for your consumer and they want to come back and hopefully book more with your company?
The top five things to think about becoming an experience business, I think the first thing is content. Really building rich information around the destination, the trip, all that information, I think that it goes without saying but it’s not just about the transaction. I think consumers are very demanding, they want more than just a great price, they want to understand what they’re going to get—that’s the first thing.
I think the second thing, behind the scenes, is you can only do this if you have great data, so you need to get a good view of the customer. And most brands that we talk with in the travel industry are trying to get that single customer view, so that they can better understand the customer.
I think we all, as consumers, know we don’t want to be bombarded with rubbish. We want things that are relevant to us. Brands are on that journey to getting the data right. I think technology is amazing, it does wonderful things, but it’s not the be all and end all, and I can say that, working for a technology company. It’s often about the culture and the approach, and what we hear from a lot of travel brands that have been successful, it’s about bringing all the functions in the business together and having a single company approach.
Because this touches everything. Of course. It’s the outbound marketing, it’s the first touch you have with a customer, it’s the inbound customer call, the inbound service, it’s the web experience, it’s the app experience. It’s the experience of the check-in desk or at the hotel lobby, or whatever it is, it takes a culture and approach.  The fourth thing, I think, is then, with that in place, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
So, you have the amazing ability to communicate with consumers in a myriad of ways, but hold back, think about the experience, and do things in a responsible and measured way. Because you can be communicating with customers on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, so think about that.
And then, ultimately, it’s about thinking about those moments that consumers interact with your brand across all touch points and thinking about that journey, and building something that takes people through that journey metaphorically, not just in the travel trip itself.
So, Abi, at Adobe we talk a lot about experience business, but from your perspective, being a consumer and a blogger out there in the travel world, how do you see this manifesting? Is it something that we’re kidding ourselves about? Is this resonating? Is it a term that means something to you and you see?
AK: I think it’s a really interesting idea to learn about the term experience business.
JW:  Yes.
AK: Because particularly in travel, travel is all about the experience and so if you can add into that, as you’re saying, that some companies do, then I think that can be a really powerful thing. I think it is something that a lot of companies forget, particularly a lot of airlines, I suppose, that there is an entire experience. I had a baby just over a year ago and the first flight flying as a family was quite a daunting thing, even though I have taken hundreds and probably thousands now of flights.
That first time I had a really good experience, but the experience side of it, which was from the get-go, I think they even sent an email when I booked it, saying some people find this worrying, flying with children, but don’t worry it doesn’t need to be.
JW:  Yes.
AK: This is what we’ve got on hand for you, and actually they did follow that through with all the staff at check-in and on the flight, the people came to us especially, and said, “Oh is this your first time flying with a child?” and “This is how we’ll help you, this is what to watch out for.” I thought that was a really good use, and something that I wish more companies—I feel there’s a gap, that other companies could really work on that kind of experience.
JW:  Yes and often, I mean, we talk about data underpinning a great experience, so I guess in that instance they had some simple data about you they could use, right, so it, kind of matches up.  And you know, as a traveller yourself, how important is, you know, the, kind of, before the trip versus on the trip?  Because an airline, right, so you’re on the plane and they look after you well, and that’s great, but there they were trying to do something ahead of time, and maybe they looked back afterwards and said, you know, did you have a great trip and all that kind of stuff.
Do you think that’s becoming more and more important to travellers now, and to consumers, that kind of pre-trip thing?
AK: I think consumers are starting to become a lot more discerning particularly with things like airlines, where perhaps it used to be people would look at price points and routes, but now people do make a big choice about their experience, about how they’re treated.  And I think that pre-trip thing can be huge. Either you have a frequent traveller who likes, probably, information to be to the point and not bombarded, but I think because people who work in travel and digital marketing perhaps travel so often that they can forget how daunting it is actually for a lot of people when they travel.
And that if you make it a good experience, if you help them pre-trip with advice or information, people are more likely to travel, never mind with that brand, just full stop, they’ll travel again.
JW:  Yes, I heard one hotel say that the experience used to be about making sure that the check-in line at the hotel desk was short and quick, and people-based interactions were pleasant. They’re saying now it’s more about the digital experience, right, so people don’t expect to check-in any more, they expect to check-in, or some people, on an app.
In fact, I’m going on a trip tomorrow and I’ve got the hotel asking me to check-in now, and so when I get there I can go straight to my room and pick up a card.  Do you see consumers embracing digital technology like that or is it still a small percentage?  Maybe it’s just us digital marketers, right, we’re living in this bubble, but do you see technology being used like that. Mobile apps, we talk a lot about it, is that a big thing for consumers?
AK: I think when it comes to whether consumers are going to move totally digitally or not, I think there’s still a really big age divide.
JW:  Yes, okay.
AK: And I think the younger generation fully expect everything to be on their mobile phone and are quickly irritated if they have to go in any other way.
JW: Yes, I’d rather not talk to anybody, that’s my ultimate experience—not talk to anyone!
AK: Exactly that. We’d rather, you know, the supermarket you see younger people going into the self-service checkout and everything like that. And then you have a look at my parent’s generation, still, even at this, decades into the digital revolution, still much prefer speaking to somebody and that’s the same with airlines, hotels things like that. I think the challenge for today’s company is to remember that there are different points, that you still need to be able to react to the old-fashioned way, and move digitally and be on that phone or the watch or the glasses, whatever.
JW:  Yes and I think the trick is really to get that human element into digital, and that’s what we’re all striving to do. Because I think it’s been the belief that this is like a never ending march to dehumanised experiences. Actually, I think technology can do a lot of things, like your travel experience with your newborn—they used data then to actually make it a much more human experience, because they knew about you and they informed the staff and so on. Do you see that? I mean, are you hopeful for technology in travel, do you see it as a humanising thing or a dehumanising thing?
AK:  I’m always very optimistic about everything but particularly about the use of digital media in travel. There is potential for things to go wrong, but there is the potential for things to go very well.
And I think you’re absolutely right that the human component is critical to that success.
JW:  Yes.
AK:  I think that links in when we worry about how much personalisation is too much or is creepy, or whether it could be really useful, like the example of flying with a newborn. The human touch is really, would I be happy if this was being done to my mother, to my partner, to my child? And that’s probably a test, that human touch is the test that makes things helpful, and good, and valuable.
JW:  So are you hopeful for the future?
AK:  I’m hopeful with a bit of cynicism thrown in.
JW:  Come on.
AK:  With suspicion! Thank you so much for talking to me today that was really interesting, and I learnt a lot of new things.
JW:  Thank you.
AK:  And thank you very much for tuning in and watching today. And just remember this is one of a six part series you can find the rest at Adobe’s Digital Marketing Blog Europe at Thanks for joining us.