As travel companies adjust to keep up with the shifting demands of today’s travelers — especially with blended travelers expecting personalized solutions that work for them in any context — delivering a seamless payment experience throughout the customer journey is essential.
This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.
While the current buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) is leading many travel companies to prioritize investments in automated technologies like machine learning, travel executives shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of the human touch. In the global travel payments landscape, maintaining human touch is about striking a balance between the convenience of digital technology and the comfort of human interaction to provide satisfying, safe, and seamless customer experiences.
SkiftX spoke with Colin Smyth, vice president and general manager of travel at Flywire, about the importance of providing a human touch throughout the travel booking journey, the role payments play in ensuring elevated luxury travel experiences, and how the payment experience can be enhanced to deliver the connected trip of the future.
SkiftX: What new travel booking trends and behaviors are you seeing?
Colin Smyth: We’re witnessing a massive resurgence in travel demand, with many of our clients reporting returns that surpass 2019 levels. Along with that, we’re seeing the ongoing digitization of travel platforms, with many legacy systems being phased out, or legacy providers looking to reinvent themselves. One product of this is the trend toward platform consolidation and global mergers, as exemplified by the merging of Regiondo with Rezdy and Checkfront.
We increasingly see that travelers want a seamless experience when it comes to booking and paying for all parts of their travel experience. They want everything from trip planning and booking to payment and itinerary management in one place. Booking platforms that can seamlessly integrate the different parts of the travel booking process will excel, meeting the evolving needs of today’s travelers.
SkiftX: What role do payments play in ensuring seamless booking experiences?
Smyth: We believe software drives value in payments. From our perspective, integrating payment data with trip data is essential. Guests are pushing both payment and booking companies to make this convergence happen and the companies that can connect those two parts will succeed.
Increasingly, guests are factoring the payment experience into how they view their overall travel experience. And because travel inherently operates on a global scale, payments need to be localized for the guest, in their preferred currency and payment method. All of these factors play a role in shaping the guest experience and reinforce the importance of payment processes in the travel industry.
SkiftX: How can travel companies strike the right balance between deploying automated technologies and ensuring human interaction?
Smyth: It’s a delicate balance between too much automation and too much dependency on manual processes. Take multi-day travel, which creates the need for both technology and interaction with human beings. In order to create and manage trips smoothly, the travel company needs to have a strong tech stack. But when it comes to creating awesome experiences, incorporating human interaction is crucial to ensuring guests get exactly what they’re looking for.
The next wave of platforms will allow human interaction to happen at the right times along the trip — before, during, and after. They will also make it very easy for guests and travel companies to automate the parts of travel that can run on their own.
However, we do not see the role of human advisors such as travel agents going away. Instead, we see agents leveraging technology to enhance their offerings and take the guest experience to a whole new level. As one traveler shared with us in a recent survey, “Travel agents are real people, so we can travel confidently knowing we won’t be relying on a hard-to-reach customer service center.” We believe agents will only become more valuable in this regard as the world leans more heavily on automation and AI.
SkiftX: Can you highlight a few key results from Flywire’s recent survey of luxury travelers? What do luxury travelers need and expect in their booking experiences?
Smyth: One thing that came through loud and clear is that they deeply value travel agents and advisors, with 87 percent saying the best way to achieve a truly personalized experience is by using an agent or advisor. Having a trusted contact to reach out to is also important when things don’t go as planned, with 59 percent saying one of the key benefits of working with an advisor is the assistance they provide in solving problems when something goes wrong. As one respondent said, “A human agent will be able to explain [an experience] better than words online, plus they can make your whole travel situation smoother and faster.”
The other takeaway is that luxury travelers prioritize secure and simple payment processes, with 69 percent saying they are very concerned with the security of their travel payments, and 90 percent saying the ability to pay for all parts of their trip with a single payment is important to them.
The support, security, and simplicity luxury travelers value are the foundations of our offering.
SkiftX: What other luxury travel trends are you seeing?
Smyth: Experience is driving massive growth across travel. Guests want to go back to places they’ve been to and explore new destinations. What is equally exciting is the role that software plays in seamlessly connecting every aspect of the trip, whether it’s before, during, or after. The demand for luxury experiences, including those once-in-a-lifetime travel adventures, is also at an all-time high. We believe this will continue to grow — as it is for many of our clients, including Go2Africa, White Desert, and Southern Crossing.
The desire for sustainable travel among luxury travelers is on the rise as well, which is why we’re excited about our partnership with Tomorrow’s Air, which more deeply embeds actionable steps travelers can take toward sustainability in the booking process.
In addition, travel agents continue to play a substantial role in connecting travelers to the sustainable travel experience they seek.
SkiftX: How can the payment experience be enhanced to deliver the “connected trip” of the future?
Smyth: Today’s consumers not only expect, but demand a connection between their payments and travel experiences. It’s all about crafting a superior guest experience, which includes allowing travelers to choose their preferred currency and payment method effortlessly. It’s also imperative that we continue to use the data gathered during the current trip to help shape future travel experiences.
In addition to these improvements, it’s essential to provide flexibility. For instance, if a guest wishes to make adjustments to their itinerary while on the road, they need a seamless connection between software and payments to make it happen.
SkiftX: What is your vision for payments over the next three to five years?
Smyth: I envision consumers driving innovation around payments, specifically in the multi-day luxury space. I anticipate that consumers will demand the same seamless and user-friendly payment experiences they currently enjoy when using services like Uber or making purchases on Amazon.
I can also see there being a shift in the role of payment methods beyond traditional credit cards. While the concept of open banking is still very new, it will be exciting to see what impact that has on payment innovations within the travel industry. All in all, I am looking forward to seeing how the travel and payment space continues to evolve.
For more information about Flywire’s payment solutions, click here.
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