John F. Kennedy famously said, “In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.” As the world limps back to an evolving normal in one of the worst crises in the last 100 years, the travel industry, which has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak, has lessons to learn and opportunities to tap into. While most experts predict that the industry will take at least 2-3 years to come back to the pre-crisis stage, a complete overhaul, as we know, is an imperative.

To re-capture the new normal traveler, companies will have to expedite their digital transformation journey. But this is easier said than done as the pandemic has severely impacted digital transformation plans and budgets across the industry; companies are holding onto their cash reserve until the demand stabilizes.

However, many industry experts believe that COVID-19 should not be a deterrent to existing digital transformation plans. The path to digitalization in a shell-shocked economic environment is strewn with hurdles. But there are a few areas where companies can make changes to set the ball rolling in this direction.

Tapping Into a Digital-first Mindset

Even before the crisis, the era of me-commerce, led by hyper-personalization, had begun altering the travel landscape. Digital channels were playing a crucial role in customer loyalty. COVID-19 has only accelerated the shift to digital.

Businesses should train their lens on enhancing the digital experience of customers even as they look at establishing agile operating models. The crisis has rendered most historical data invalid. Existing risk models will have to be re-assessed. By leveraging analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, companies can glean better insights into evolving customer preferences and accordingly tailor their offerings.

The pandemic has eroded the purchasing power of customers. This means, customers will be quick to switch brands if they think they are getting a “better deal.” Hence, businesses will have to adopt a more sustainable model underpinned by analytics and AI to not only track the journey of a customer in real-time, but personalize their offerings and sharpen decision-making.

Intelligent Automation for the Digital Age

No digital transformation journey is complete without Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and intelligent automation. This will drive significant improvements in terms of cost efficiency and productivity.

Automation had already made significant inroads in the industry before COVID-19 — from automated check-in at hotels and airports to contact center operations to security and maintenance. The outbreak has compelled businesses to speed up automation initiatives, and explore more digital and touch-less systems to ensure the safety and well-being of customers. Case in point: a leading airport has already installed touch-less systems in 50+ elevators to prevent the spread of infection.

Similarly, an integrated model that combines humans and digital technologies in contact center operations will help companies automate the right interactions. In a recent blog, my colleague Jitender Mohan has written in detail about the advantages of such a model.

The next normal demands all things digital, and for the travel industry, this is an opportunity to make changes and quicken the pace of digital transformation.

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