How leading travel brands embrace a personalized approach to UX & UI

Discover four top travel brands that are providing personalized customer service through an enhanced user experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Leading travel and hospitality brands are connecting with customers by offering one-of-a-kind user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) focused on personalization.
  • Nearly 70 percent of travelers want options based on their personal travel history and preferences.
  • Successful UX and UI design needs to focus on creating a frictionless customer experience throughout the traveler journey.

Posted March 14, 2018

Generation Y is made up of experience-driven travelers that demand seamless interactions across multiple devices when planning trips and booking travel.

They’re shaping how travel and hospitality companies are strategizing, and at the same time, influencing the expectations of customers of all ages. In fact, 69 percent of travelers now want to be given options based on their personal travel history and preferences, according to Sabre’s Personalization Report.

Many brands have recognized that the travel site user experience — on all digital platforms — can strongly influence customers’ opinions of their business overall. As market-research firm McKinsey noted in an article last year, it’s the lifetime value of a customer, and not their individual transactions, that is the true financial driver.

That’s why leading travel and hospitality brands focus on connecting with customers more deeply by offering one-of-a-kind user experience design (UX) and user interface (UI). The outcome of their efforts is intuitive, customized and streamlined customer service that drives positive experiences, that in turn, lead to repeat customers.

Here’s how four top travel brands are providing personalized customer service and experiences through their UX and UI.

Carnival Cruise Line’s personalized approach in customer service

Last year saw the debut of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Ocean Medallion, a wearable disc worn as a pendant, wristband or clip by passengers to help personalize their entire trip experience.

For instance, it can unlock a passenger’s room as they approach the door, without having to fumble around with a key card. Waiters can find — and deliver food to — passengers who’ve migrated to another table or area of the ship. And, pre-registered food allergies and preferences are immediately known to kitchen staff and help inform the menu options passengers are offered.

According to Cliff Kuang, a UX and product strategy consultant and writer for Fast Company, the ultimate goal of this type of device is to provide concierge-level service at a larger scale than previously possible. “[Carnival Cruise] isn’t thinking of the Ocean Medallion as a new feature, but as a platform that’s going to evolve over the next 10 years.”

Because of the immersive nature of traveling on a cruise ship, Carnival Cruises is able to collect data at every customer touchpoint— from check-in, to dining, to entertainment. This information allows the company to identify what its passengers value most and to then take a more personalized approach to their customer service delivery.

While not every type of business offers this same level of high-touch service, there are still elements of Carnival Cruise Line’s approach that others can adopt, including the collection and analysis of data throughout the customer journey.

Airbnb’s Experiences tap into the desire to live like a local

When it comes to travel, paying for experiences has outpaced the purchase of material things. A Harris Group study found that 72 percent of Generation Y prefers spending money on travel, music festivals and other experiential souvenirs.

This is one of the reasons Airbnb launched Experiences – a business vertical that transforms locals into tour guides. Through Experiences, travelers can now enhance their trip by signing up for exclusive and customizable tours such as a perfume-creation workshop in Paris or a cooking class in Mexico City.

“The most memorable events from a trip are the ones most personalized to the traveler,” says Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a popular email newsletter that uncovers low-priced international flights. “Experiences like those offered through Airbnb tap into our active memory, as opposed to passively sightseeing at a landmark, such as viewing the Eiffel Tower from afar.”

In addition to searching for experiences based on a traveler’s interests, Airbnb provides recommendations based on a customer’s past interactions on their digital platform. While still in its early stages, its ability to correctly match guests and hosts is continually improving thanks to machine learning.

Additional digital tools, such as geolocation, will continue to enhance the traveler’s experience even more, says Nick Babich, the editor-in-chief of UX Planet. These new types of user interfaces are providing the ability to feature select tours based on real-time location.

Screenshot of Airbnb’s Experiences suggestions in Los Angeles, California

What makes Airbnb’s Experiences memorable is not just the tour itself, but the UI. From the initial discovery of the travel option to booking the tour — all are visually presented with colorful high-quality images and engaging copy for an appealing and seamless interaction.

Hilton’s loyalty app exceeds guest expectations

Hilton’s cutting-edge mobile app is a golden example of using technology to remove common UX pain points. “What’s interesting is that they’re no longer thinking about the easiest thing you can do,” says UX consultant Kuang. “[Hilton is] starting to think of the things they could not have done before, and that’s the bar that you have to set if you want to deliver a new and better travel customer experience.”

Their Hilton Honors app enables digital check-in, room selection and keyless entry to 1,700 hotels in the U.S. and Canada. By consolidating these more basic interactions into the mobile app, Hilton employees are able to spend more time delivering a higher level of personalized customer service for guests.

Since the app was first introduced in 2015, there’s been approximately 30 million digital check-ins and 13.6 million door openings. The high number of users has translated into even better business results with the app now serving as a fundamental driver of hotel bookings, bringing in 20 percent of all bookings across the company’s 14 brands, according to Digiday.

Delta re-imagines a customer service challenge

Overbooking flights continues to be a major issue for airlines, but Delta has introduced a creative way to give their customers greater control.

Delta’s bidding system, which has been in place since 2011, allows passengers to declare how much money or how many flight credits it would take for them to give up their seat on a given flight if needed. Delta, and other airlines with similar practices, uses this information to determine who they can ‘bump’.

As a passenger checks in, they are pinged at the kiosk or on their mobile device to indicate their flight is overbooked along with a request to accept the dollar amount in travel vouchers should they agree to take a later flight. This approach empowers customers, giving them the opportunity to place a value on their time — instead of letting the airline determine it for them.

By allowing customers to opt-in for a possible bumping, Delta is reducing the need for last-minute negotiations that distract staff at the gate. And less stress at the gate means a better overall experience with the brand.

Today’s travelers, especially Gen Y, are more informed and demanding about what they want, requiring travel brands to personalize their offerings to compete for their business. A UX and UI approach that enables customization, reduces friction and delivers on the promise of a more memorable experience creates a positive and lasting brand impression that translates into better business results.

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