A Personal Touch: How the Travel Industry Is Supplying a More Customized Experience

With machine learning becoming more sophisticated and other robust tools able to capture tons of data about travelers, the travel industry is looking for ways to use this massive amount of information to craft a more personalized service for its customers. At this point, it seems airlines, hotels, and other suppliers in the industry are tackling it from all different angles, and it’s been a bit of trial and error as they try to figure out that sweet spot, utilizing the data in a way that’s helpful, accommodating, and attentive to the traveler—not annoying, intrusive, and creepy.

As we highlighted in a recent Atlas post, American Express Global Business Travel is taking major steps to offer its customers the right kind of personalized service. Today, we’re exploring how a few others in the industry are doing so as well, some better than others.

In airports

How much more personal can an airport get than being able to recognize your face? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening at airports all across the world.

From Tokyo to Paris and Brisbane, Australia, airports have been unveiling facial-recognition technology that scans travelers’ faces, matches them with electronic passport photos, and allow those passengers it recognizes to skip certain security lines. And you can expect more kiosks with this facial-recognition capability to pop up at airports across the United States and Europe in the coming months.

The technology is largely being promoted as a way to streamline the check-in process and expedite long lines due to increased security (though we wonder how much security itself is driving the rollout).

Does the new technology raise privacy concerns? Sure, but there isn’t much travelers can do.

Another piece of technology designed to make long lines at airports more bearable: BlipTrack™ queue management systems, which help to measure the flow of passenger traffic by displaying accurate wait times on screens strategically placed at various checkpoints.

The way it works: BlipTrack sensors utilize beacon modules that detect the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal of passing mobile devices in "discoverable" mode. When a device is located, the system records, encrypts, and timestamps the mobile device’s unique identification (called a MAC address)—supposedly without accessing or recording the owner’s personal data on the phone.

When that same phone is re-identified by other beacons farther down the same line, the system analyzes how long it took to get from one beacon to the other and uses this data to determine how fast it will take someone to get through the line, then spits out that information on a nearby screen.

Be on the lookout for these screens with personalized wait times displayed in New York, Cincinnati, and San Diego as well as in Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Brussels.

In the air

Qatar Airways just unveiled what must be the most customizable business class seats offered by any airline.

Its new Q Suite cabin offers reconfigurable seats, adjustable panels, and movable TV monitors, enabling passengers to sit solo, in a pair, or as a party of four, face to face.

This flexible setup allows colleagues to transform their space into essentially a private little boardroom where they don’t have to waste any time getting down to business.
And once its lights out on an overnight flight, the seats can be rearranged and the adjustable panels raised to give each passenger total sleeping privacy. For those traveling with their partner, they have the option to recline their two seats together into a lie-flat double bed, complete with a quilted mattress and soft, plush duvet.
The rollout is set to begin as early as June 2017 on the airline’s reconfigured 777s, A350s, and A380s, and first will appear on inbound/outbound flights to Doha, Qatar, from London, Paris, and New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

In hotels

In an effort to lure more guests as well as get to know travelers’ behaviors, hotels are offering more personalized perks when folks download their apps and join their loyalty rewards programs.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts® is a prime example. For a couple years now, the hotel giant has been offering its Hilton Honors members the ability to select their own hotel room 24 hours prior to check-in by accessing on their mobile devices a digital floor plan or list of the hotel’s available inventory. And now, powered by Google Maps™, guests can choose the room based on the view they want.

Once guests arrive at the hotel, they also can use the Hilton HHonors app to check in and customize their stay further, from ordering more pillows to be delivered to the room or their favorite snack.

And a few months ago, Hilton added a brand-new feature on the app called Fun Finder that acts as sort of a personal travel guide.

Using Wi-Fi, GPS, and beacon technology, the new tool provides guests with detailed maps and wayfinding capabilities as well as information about on-property events. It also notifies visitors of special offers and hotel features suited to their unique preferences based on a survey filled out prior to their arrival.

The tool is currently available at Hilton properties in Dallas and Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, and soon will be expanding elsewhere.

Marriott® also just rolled out new features on its mobile app that will provide Marriott Rewards members with customized travel content and improved search capabilities.

For the first time, the app is delivering curated, original content from Marriott’s digital magazine, Traveler, based on users’ previous hotel searches and upcoming travels.

And with the app’s innovative new navigation, members will find it even easier to customize their stay with Mobile Requests that enable them to chat directly with hotel staff before, during, and after their stay. With this tool, they can make special requests such as room upgrades (and see they’ve come through before their arrival), late checkouts, or simply to have extra towels delivered to the room.

Later this year, Marriott plans to launch a real-time app messaging called mPlaces, which also will rely on beacon technology, in order to customize the experience even more. Expect things like personal greetings upon arrival and the ability to order room service to be delivered to wherever you’re located on the property, whether you’re meeting in a conference room or catching the last few rays of sun by the pool after a long day.