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The modern travel experience

By Rebecca Gibson on June 29, 2016

Filed under Hospitality & Transportation

The Record Issue 1: Summer 2016

Greg Jones highlights how Microsoft is working with partners to empower organizations in the travel and hospitality industry to provide a connected travel experience for consumers.

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HT’s 2016 Lodging Technology Study predicts that this year, 56% of hotels will increase in-room technology investments and 43%will prioritize mobile engagement to personalize the guest experience. The Cromwell in Las Vegas, US, for example, is piloting the Connected Room solution, which combines tablets in guest bedrooms with other technologies to provide an end-to-end connected experience that meets all individual guests’ personal requirements.

However, Greg Jones, Microsoft’s managing director of Worldwide Hospitality and Travel, claims that many hotels, airlines and other travel companies are struggling to achieve their ultimate aim: building a 360-degree profile of each customer and provide a connected experience across all aspects of their journey.

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“Hotels want to know what in-room amenities and services are most valuable to their guests, while airlines want to understand passengers’ dining, entertainment and buying preferences during their flights,” he says. “This allows them to cater to individuals and develop targeted marketing and promotional pricing campaigns to drive revenue and customer loyalty. However, companies are under continual pressure to adopt the necessary technology to collect and analyze customer data from multiple systems to gain these valuable insights.”

According to Jones, the modern travel experience encompasses everything from the moment the guest books their transport and accommodation, to the moment they arrive home after their holiday. Consequently, Microsoft and its partners are exploring how technology can be integrated at all customer interaction points to provide a seamless and connected holiday experience.

This March, Microsoft unveiled a bot framework to enable developers to build and connect intelligent bots that use artificial intelligence to automate basic tasks, such as booking flights or hotel accommodation. “If a customer has used Cortana to search for an airline, the Skype bot will connect to the airline or a third-party bot to book flights and send the booking confirmations via a text or e-mail,” explains Jones. “This expedites the booking, making it easier for the customer and the airline.”

Microsoft is also helping customers to install beacons to enhance navigation in airports, build interactive digital information boards, and deploy mobile apps like Lufthansa’s Windows-based BoardConnect so passengers can choose movies and order food and duty-free items during their flights. “Not only do these mobile and other technologies allow passengers to dictate their experience, but they also free up airline staff to complete other tasks,” comments Jones.

Implementing agile systems to support business-critical operations and empower employees is a key priority for companies operating across the travel industry. Platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 and Yammer are helping hospitality and travel companies foster real-time communication and collaboration between employees, regardless of their location.

PreviewImage3“Hotel management group Accor, for example, built an intranet and a corporate social network on Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint Online to boost staff productivity and collaboration,” he says. “Meanwhile, KLM Dutch Royal Airlines’ cabin crew uses Yammer on mobile devices to report operational issues and request information in real time, while back-office staff use it to share customer feedback. This has reduced customer response times and encouraged people to share ideas for improving business processes.”

Airlines are also investing in devices and mobile apps to provide flight attendants with instant access to vital information about crew positioning, passengers and flight operations.

“Lufthansa Systems has developed mCabin, a Windows 10-based mobile app to help cabin crew gain details about passengers’ meal preferences or special requirements, and to communicate important operational information or onboard incidents directly to ground-based teams,” says Jones. “Supervisors can also access interactive duty rosters, briefing documents, in-flight assessments and assign tasks based on the flight attendants’ qualifications. In addition, a shop module displays all available duty-free items, food and beverages, as well as customers’ purchase and loyalty history, to enhance the mobile POS.”

Meanwhile, major companies such as Austria Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Delta Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Lufthansa and ExpressJet Airlines have replaced heavy, paper-based flight bags with electronic flight bags (EFBs) to increase operational efficiency and productivity.

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“EFBs, which comprise Microsoft Surface 3 devices powered by Windows 10, give pilots access to navigation charts, flights manuals and real-time weather information, saving up to three hours of pre-flight preparation and enabling them to make more accurate in-flight decisions,” Jones says. “Pilots can also use the devices to access company news and bulletins, communicate with colleagues and family, and to complete online training.”

This May, Microsoft and IT provider SITA released a Windows 10-basedmobile and Microsoft Band app to transform ground operations at airports. Already in operation at a major Asian airline and airports in Asia and the Middle East, SITA AirsideApp integrates back-end systems including departure control systems, passenger and baggage check-in, fuelling procedures, flight information, roster and inventory management.

“Ground staff can access real-time data via Windows 10 devices, or receive notifications via the Microsoft Band for efficient hands-free operation,” says Jones. “AirsideApp also supports mobile POS, allowing airport agents to quickly sell ancillary services such as lounge access, seat upgrades, extra baggage allowance and duty-free products.”

Certainly, emphasizes Jones, Microsoft and its partners are ideally placed to help companies in the travel and hospitality industry transform their operations to meet customers’ increasing demands for more customized and connected holiday experiences. “We aim to deliver solutions that make the entire travel experience – from the booking, to the journey and the hotel – as quick, efficient, seamless and as enjoyable as possible for both the travelers, and the people serving them.”

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