The travel sector has been changed forever by the pandemic—survival must include the human element amidst much-needed technological transformation.

Technology is penetrating every part of the traveler’s journey, but a new report from travel tech company Amadeus suggests that human interaction is still a crucial part to attract and retain travelers.

More than 40% of the travel sellers surveyed ranked human engagement as a top factor for success. The figure is even higher in agencies specializing in business travel, where deep knowledge of customer preferences and strong relationships are key.

After the pandemic fades into memory, the road to recovery for the travel industry is through rebuilding travelers’ confidence and understanding their needs, but success can only be achieved by taking up a hybrid approach of understanding how people can augment technology, and how technology can enhance what people do.

Taking the time to understand traveler needs will help restore business confidence as we navigate through a shifting landscape. Travel sellers will be key to building this confidence to help their customers explore the world, and the following insights can help them in this path to recovery.

  1. Human interaction is key to a great customer experience
    In a highly-competitive and often commoditized environment such as travel, human touch can be a powerful differentiator. People are the face of an organization and this can be even more important in times of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Travelers demand a higher level of personalization, reassurance and empathy, and expect their agents to solve their problems. The guidance, information and support that agents can provide during these times will have a lasting impact on a traveler’s trust and loyalty.

    The demand for the latest and most updated information is crucial for travelers: from the health status at their destination, to travel rules or conditions, to key information on hygiene standards at their hotel. This will be important to reassure them that travel is safe and help them navigate the new world of travel.
  2. The future of travel is AI-powered
    Artificial Intelligence continues to infiltrate and influence the traveler journey. From simple chatbots that support customers with basic service queries, to more sophisticated and complex machine learning technologies that deliver highly personalized content—technological developments in this field are evolving quickly.

    The research indicates that travel agencies want to be at the forefront of this change: automation and dynamic pricing are key areas of investment for the companies. AI is inextricably linked to these areas, and travel agencies are planning to invest in it. Many travel agencies have described it as the foundation for all their future technological advancements.

    AI-powered solutions can help manage spikes in demand, deliver smooth and best-in-class service and can also be used to compile data from multiple sources to provide the most updated information to help ease uncertainties even in challenging times.
  3. Understand the human touch
    The traveler view may surprise us about what the human touch means to them. Travel agencies often think of human interaction as crucial to attracting and retaining travelers. However, data from the survey suggests that human contact in and of itself may not be as important as travel agents think.

    Friendliness, availability, and accessibility over the phone were all more important to travelers than in-person relationships. This stood in contrast with what most travel agents believed their customers valued.

    While the older generation are expected to value phone calls, surprisingly 63% of Gen Z and Millennials shared the same sentiment. This became even more crucial when there were disruptions, like COVID-19, with phone lines swamped and wait-times skyrocketing—leading to frustration among travelers.

    Travelers are increasingly seeking ‘humanness’ in the delivery of the customer experience: the ability of travel agents to communicate in a friendly manner tops the list of traveler priorities.
  4. The pandemic has changed hygiene expectations
    As travelers become increasingly conscious about health risks, they will seek travel sellers that can ensure that proper sanitation measures and health services will be provided during their journey. To inspire traveler confidence, travel sellers will need to provide the very latest health and hygiene information, health guarantees, or a commitment to respond to unpredictable situations with excellent customer service.

    As a result, travel agencies that can combine human interaction with technology to deliver high quality and timely customer service will have a competitive advantage in gaining traveler confidence.

AI will radically change how work is done, but it will not replace humans. Success lies in understanding how humans can most-effectively augment technology, how technology can enhance what humans do, and how business processes should be designed to support both.

Of course, there are still challenges in pursuing a hybrid approach. The research shows that AI can deter some travelers. When presented with a scenario in which AI would be providing customer support or that a hotel may predict what kind of drinks they may like in the minibar, a third of travelers reacted negatively.

Some were worried about job security for humans, and others expressed concern about data privacy being at risk. There may always be outright rejecters, so businesses will need to position the usage of technology carefully.

But a business that can use people’s skills and technology in harmony will be more prepared to play in this new world of travel.