Summer is by far the busiest travel season of the year, and holiday travel trends continue to show steady year-over-year growth. According to ITB Berlin’s most recent World Travel Trends Report, the number of worldwide outbound trips in 2016 grew by 3.9 percent in the first eight months of the year alone. To top that, the world outbound travel market turnover surpassed $2 trillion during the same year.
As the number of travelers increases worldwide, so too does the use of professional travel agents. Travelers consult agencies for a customized vacation experience, relying on their agent to select new travel destinations, find a hotel that meets their specific needs, and provide them information about passport and visa requirements. These increases in both outbound travel and the usage of travel agents means small- to medium-size travel agencies are often bogged down by a surplus of non-optimized business processes. To make their operations more efficient, many travel companies are turning to automation in order to overcome their biggest business challenges, revitalize their customer services, and enhance their entire value chain.
This of course begs the question: How can automation help the travel industry optimize performance and enhance processes? Can RPA be a disruptive force in the travel industry? With these questions in mind, let’s examine the ways in which automation technology — robotic process automation (RPA), in particular — is being implemented to alleviate some of biggest pain points of the travel industry.
How RPA can help
Based on the previously mentioned statistics, it’s easy to see the travel industry is a rapidly expanding one. Consequently, the industry faces barriers to providing its customers with the best services at the lowest prices. The biggest challenges faced by travel agents include efficiently scaling operations to meet increased demand, processing orders and payments in a timely manner, complying with travel regulations, as well as providing customers the best prices and most personalized offers. These obstacles require high levels of manual intervention by employees and add to the cost of operations for travel agencies. They also take away time from what matters most to travel agencies: the customers.
In attempting to streamline their operations, travel agencies are beginning to turn to RPA to automate time-consuming, repetitive, and rules-based processes, such as processing orders, tracking payments, communicating with customers, digitizing paperwork, and managing data. Even better, RPA provides benefits that surpass the limited capabilities of the traditional, yet basic travel automation softwares currently used by many travel agencies.
Improved regulatory compliance
Travel agencies must maintain high levels of security to comply with increasing border security and tightening airline regulations on national and international levels. Depending on their destination, travel customers must have valid passports and an up-to-date visa. A responsibility supported by most platforms, the actions taken by RPA software robots in processing a customer’s booking and personal information are saved in a central log where they can be regularly monitored, easily accessed in the event of audits, and updated to reflect changes in travel regulations. RPA automates all repetitive compliance tasks and reduces the possibility for travel agencies to be exposed to non-compliance measures by eliminating error and complying to the prescribed workflows.
RPA’s software robotic workforce can be easily scaled up or down to match growth in travel demands — with little to no additional cost and with a single mouse click. Automated workflows created with RPA software can be replicated and distributed across a travel agency’s multiple departments and locations, even further reducing the manual work required of employees. The resulting ease and speed of scalability is necessary for travel agencies to efficiently respond to permanent increases in travel as well as seasonal fluctuations in customer demand.
Significant cost reductions
RPA comes with its own implementation costs, yet these are typically not significant compared to the often high expenses that accompany the implementation of other enterprise softwares (BPMS, ERP, CRM, and others). What’s more is that many different processes, whether they be customer communication or order processing, can be automated using one RPA software license. In this way, RPA quickly delivers considerable savings, enables a quick return on investment, and allows travel agencies to provide their customers with the lowest costs.
Complex, flexible automation
RPA technologies are currently able to automate repetitive, rules-based business responsibilities, such as data entry, web crawling, and payment processing. What’s more is that, with RPA, travel agencies can establish complex automation in a matter of hours, instead of weeks, without IT restructuring. While employees are largely still responsible for tasks that require creativity and judgement, frequent advances in RPA technology mean that the platform can also already be used to automate the entire travel booking process with little to no need for employee involvement.
RPA in best serving the travel customer
The applications of RPA are beginning to expand past rules-based tasks to automate more complex operations. RPA also allows travel agencies to improve the quality, security, and timeliness of the services that they are able to offer their customers. And the customer experience is only expected to rapidly improve through the growing application of AI and related technologies (e.g. machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, cognitive automation) to RPA.
The collaboration between RPA and AI — also called intelligent automation — will enable an even more personalized travel experience to emerge. More specifically, AI can be applied to approach tasks that require complex decision-making and analysis, such as natural language processing, recommendation services, and online customer support. This means that, using existing data on a customer’s preferences, intelligent automation will be able to independently predict new holiday destinations, make restaurant recommendations, or recommend a spa service for a customer.
While we’re only beginning to see the first glimpses of such intelligent automation, travel agencies are already reaping the multitude of benefits of RPA implementation. RPA transforms how travel agencies approach their business activities, especially when it comes to meeting customer demand and being in control of customer service offerings. The platform’s automation capabilities free travel agents from the restraints set by menial operational tasks and allow employees to shift their focus back to the customer. More than ever before, RPA allows travel agencies to leverage high-end levels of scalability, flexibility, and security in a controlled manner, priming companies for what is to come with the future of intelligent automation.
Nick Ostdick is a Digital Content Strategist.