Travel marketing technology: Personalization meets contactless

With travel still being far from a full rebound, travel businesses aren’t seeing their booking conversion maximizing quite yet.

While we have been left dreaming about our next faraway holiday trip to make up for the lost time, we have started to get used to contactless payments, voice search and mobile solutions. These past two years have helped to accelerate some of these behaviors, and so it makes sense that tourism technology trends have followed this same basic pattern.

Once we feel comfortable making plans and exploring the world again, which tech solutions can we expect travel businesses to have embraced to inspire us to make that booking? On arrival at our destination, what’s helping to make our stay a more relaxing experience without wasting any moment of our precious time?

Let’s check it out!


Finding our way in the web of the world

When we start with the planning process of our trip, it is important that we don’t get discouraged straight away while searching for a suitable location to travel to. We are cautious and don’t want to overlook any rules or restrictions in the country of destination. After all, an unexpected stay in quarantine is never a good start.

That said, during these pandemic times where many different measures are in place in each country and often not aligned among various jurisdictions, it's easy to get lost. We may not get any wiser or - in the worst case - lose complete confidence to even leave of our homes for a trip in the first place.


Meeting Metasearch

Where context and comparability matter most, metasearch engines come to the rescue. As an online information retrieval tool, a metasearch engine takes input from us as users and immediately queries search engines for results. Sufficient data is gathered, ranked, and presented to us.

Skyscanner is one such example of a metasearch engine for the travel industry. As an online travel agency and referral platform, it brings travelers and travel businesses together. During the pandemic, Skyscanner has put the focus on serving visitors as an “information provider”, not just on traditional topics of prices and availability, but also by giving insights on travel restrictions and topics of emerging interest, such as sustainable travel services that indeed one out of four travelers opt for when offered. [1]

It seems to be working – the Skyscanner Covid map has been viewed 40 million times since the start of the pandemic. 


Accommodating Artificial Intelligence

For our accommodation search, we could use Airbnb – a company that applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to personalize search results. Once you search for a specific location on Airbnb, the algorithm provides personalized results tailored to your specific interest based on machine learning.

Each search result is based on the content you had previously interacted with. In other words, if you were looking for hotel rooms with balconies in the past, your next search results will likely show options with a balcony at the top of the feed. This also means that no two people will get the same results for the same exact search.

Even though they’ve taken AI adoption quite far, Airbnb is not the only one that’s taking advantage of this trend. Trivago is also using AI to personalize travel recommendations and optimize the user experience. As one of the best-known international hotel search engines, Trivago has partnered with Tripl to boost its search personalization technology and customize recommendations based on the user’s social media likes.

Then we have the online travel agent TripAdvisor, another travel industry giant that is putting effort into hyper-personalization and search rankings optimization. TripAdvisor is using AI to optimize reviews to help users make travel-related decisions faster. [2]


Online travel marketing opportunities

More and more advanced searching methods allow businesses in the travel industry to promote their offerings and optimize booking conversion. For this, the quality of travel marketing and keeping up to date with the latest trends can boost the overall success. Many travel marketing strategies are now carried out online, via the company website, social media, email, third party websites and various other channels.

As mentioned earlier, from the first step of travel planning, artificial intelligence can enhance the travel marketing strategies in several interesting ways. For instance, the machine learning aspect can investigate the real web searches that are carried out by us potential travelers, allowing the travel business to create much more relevant ads and web content, which delivers on what we as potential travelers are looking for.

Voice search is another emerging technology, surfing along on the popularity of smart home hubs from the likes of Google and Amazon, as well as smartphone apps. A growing number of customers are turning to these devices to make hotel, flight, and transportation bookings using online travel agencies. In addition to offering this kind of service, travel businesses can also optimize web content to respond to voice searches.

Augmented reality (AR) is about information overlays. This is typically achieved using a smartphone and an app, which then overlay graphics, text, or other content over the real-world environment when it is viewed through the phone. Travel businesses can use this to enhance real-world settings. As an example, a review app might display customer reviews for a restaurant when a phone is pointed at the building. Some hotels have also made innovative use of AR, providing wall maps within rooms and a companion app which overlays additional information onto the map.

Once we find a hotel offering that stands out from the rest and matches with our preferences, it is key for them to hold onto our attention. The ideal method for making a good impression upfront is Virtual Reality (VR) - like Augmented Reality but with 3D environments. Some hotels use VR tours to showcase their hotel rooms, while travel agents offer VR videos of tourist attractions in the area.


The power of personalization

Now that we as travelers have been convinced and have made our booking, prioritizing personalization is key for the travel business at our destination. After all, we want to be viewed as individuals, rather than part of a collective. The idea behind personalization marketing is to deliver more tailored marketing content that communicates to customers on more of a one-to-one basis, e.g. with personalized marketing emails, tailored recommendations, personalized SMS messages and various types of social media marketing.

We can be part of the travel marketing as well, like with videos and images uploaded to social media platforms and comments on blog posts. Within the travel industry, travel blogs, travel vlogs and images uploaded to Facebook or Instagram are among the most obvious examples. A restaurant can encourage us customers to upload images to their website, while hotels or attractions can provide a digital photo booth at their location which automatically adds the company hashtag to every photo.[3]


Contactless convenience

We have arrived at our destination and are about to set foot into the vacation rental we have opted for. The keyword marking our pandemic-proof stay? Contactless.

Just imagine the whole vacation rental experience: we have booked online, received an online confirmation and pre-arrival information (directions, keyless entry info, destination info, etc.). Upon arrival, we now enter the unit using the mobile key or keyless entry. We go on to enjoy our stay and on the day of departure we pack our bags and leave. All of this while having a completely human-less experience. All human involvement, such as the vacation rental management, housekeeping and maintenance remains hidden from us as the guests. 

While this is not yet favored by most travelers, contactless is gaining increasing interest: in 2021, close to one third of room nights in North America were consumed at vacation rentals/short-term rentals – that is, houses, villas, condos, and apartments. Most of these short-term rental bookings were done online via Airbnb, Vrbo, FlipKey, Vacasa, etc. [4]

This means that a third of travelers who consume accommodations have already experienced human-less hospitality and are prepared to do so at traditional accommodation types such as hotels, resorts, casinos, motels, etc. 


Coincidentally contactless

In fact, besides the vacation rentals, hotels like the global chain of CitizenM are also living the contactless concept. The hotel chain that had contactless as a part of its traditional concept now finds itself to be the “accidentally pandemic-proof hotel”, as mentioned on its website.

There is more proof that contactless check-in isn’t just a pandemic work-around: guests like the efficiency and convenience of managing their own arrival process. Also, hotels can save time and money by adding technology to their check-in process. 

Even before the pandemic, keyless entry was an increasingly important feature for travelers. According to survey data from Openkey, [5] keyless entry leads to an average increase of 7% in guest satisfaction scores and guest satisfaction scores drop by 50% when there’s a 5-minute wait at check-in.

Likewise, hotels can run more efficiently through mobile check-in and keyless entry technology. Mobile check-in saves time and effort for staff, as documentation and on-site offers can be sent to the guests pre-arrival.

Mobile check-in solutions help hotels gather customer insights about their guests too. They can learn what their preferences are with a pre-arrival questionnaire and see which offers and amenities a guest chooses to learn about them before their stay. It’s also a simple way to send through upsell offers, highlight on-site features, and capture ancillary revenue without having to meet face-to-face.

With the AI trend, customer service is one of the biggest areas where travel businesses compete, and the use of AI-powered chat bots can significantly improve response times and offer 24/7 service – even when staff are not available.


Checking out contactless payments

As explored in a previous AirPlus blog post on travel payment, it is worth emphasizing that another important form of travel tech is the ability to accept contactless payments. This started as a convenience, but it has emerged as a key part of tourism marketing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Recent surveys [6] have found that contactless check-in and a touchless journey can help guests feel more comfortable staying in a hotel, with 35% of consumers asking for contactless payment options. 

Many hotels are already implementing contactless check-in procedures by partnering with contactless check-in software providers. From virtual credit card authorization forms to passport scanning property management systems to mobile key to QR code menus, the hospitality industry has been innovating at a rapid pace to keep off the effects of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.  

This will allow hotels to process payments much more quickly, including in situations where customers do not have access to cash, or their credit or debit card. It can also enhance the customer experience because it is a time saver and finally, it can also protect the hotel staff.


Virtual becomes reality

With our eagerness to get out and travel again to the travel destination of our dreams, we want to rely on a smooth and safe travel experience: from picking the destination to arriving with packed bags, with nothing in the way of enjoying the stay we have looked forward to for so long.

Travel businesses like hotels and online travel agencies must be visible where we consumers go to buy and we need instant, precise, and concise information to make our decision. Furthermore, most of us aren’t paying for products or services, but experiences.

Many travel businesses have already embraced this expectation by considering their visibility on metasearch engines and on multiple other selected distribution channels. On top of that, offering VR or AR impressions or showcasing customer experiences via reviews shows that the travel and tourism industry more and more focuses on experience. With the aid of technology for ultimate personalization, the chance of success increases for the long term.

We can say that many technologies and travel marketing opportunities exist for travel businesses to meet and welcome us as travelers. On our turn, we can keep the faith that the trip we are dreaming of doesn’t have to live on in our minds as a virtual trip only but can indeed become the reality we have been patiently waiting for.


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[1] Skyscanner, Trivago CEOs on the future of metasearch |

[2] How Travel Apps Are Using AI To Personalize The Experience |

[3] Travel Marketing: The Latest Marketing Tips to Boost Your Results in 2021|

[4] No, guests do not require human-provided services in hospitality |

[5] Contactless Check-in for Hotels: Here's What You Need to Know |

[6] Survey: Consumers Eager to Travel with Certain Conditions for Hotels |

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