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TUI develops apps to keep in touch with holidaymakers all year

Travel group plans to create mobile apps for holidaymakers to ask questions, book excursions and potentially plan their next trip

Travel giant TUI Group is rolling out digital technology that will enable it to stay in touch with holidaymakers before and after their holiday.

TUI, which owns travel brands across Europe, including the UK’s Thomson and First Choice, aims to use the technology to develop a closer relationship with its customers throughout the year, as they think about and plan their next vacation.

The agency, which employs 77,000 people worldwide, began looking at ways it could use technology to improve the experience of holidaymakers three years ago.

It identified areas where it was weaker than its competitors and areas where it was stronger, IT director Michael Cares told Computer Weekly.

“One example was to strengthen our knowledge of customers, so that it wasn’t limited to information about people searching and booking,” he said. “We needed to take care of customers from when they return on holiday, up until the point they book again.”

The aim of the project was give TUI’s customers a better experience on holiday, which, in turn, would increase the likelihood of them booking next year’s holiday with the company, and recommending it to other people.

TUI began by replacing a series of small customer relationship management (CRM) systems used across the company with a single CRM platform that could gather information about its customers in a single database.

The company shortlisted two suppliers – SAP and SalesForce – before choosing SAP last year after a round of intense negotiation. The new CRM system has partly gone live, and will be rolled out fully over the next two years.

The project has given TUI a single view of its customers, whether they book through a high-street travel agent or online.

Holiday reps will be able to access data that the holiday market chooses to share, so they will know the details of each customer, including special needs such as allergies, in advance.

“If the sales rep comes to you and knows you by name, it makes a big difference to your experience,” said Cares.

Mobile app

One of the company’s first projects was to create a mobile app to enable its reps to communicate with holidaymakers and offer them extra services.

Developing an app was essential, said Cares, because if TUI did not do so, a rival would, and TUI could lose customers.

The company is using messaging technology developed by Tibco to link its back-office information systems to the app, to provide information about excursions, for example.

TUI is also in talks about using Tibco’s analytic technology, and is developing a proof-of-concept project that could recommend excursions, top restaurants or attractions.

The app, which went live in eight European countries last year, may also be used to pass on urgent travel warnings, for example if there is an incident at a resort, bad weather or an epidemic.

Future plans

TUI is also looking at whether it makes sense to enhance the app, so customers can book holidays on their mobile phones.

But that is still a matter of debate, said Cares.

“If you have an  iPad, we assume your experience of booking a holiday online is good, but with an iPhone, the experience might not be so good,” he said.

Cares is also considering whether it makes sense to make Wi-Fi available to holidaymakers in-resort, bearing in mind that many people go on holiday to have a break from email and social media.

“Do you want your kids being online all the time during the holiday? We need to be very careful what the digital opportunities are here,” he said.

On the other hand, travellers on long-haul trips to China, for example, might appreciate having TUI reach out to them with advice and answers to questions, he added.

Return on investment

About 250 of TUI’s 1,200-strong IT department have been working on the digital project.

Cares predicts that the SAP scheme will pay for itself in six to seven years, slightly more than the five years in the original business case, because negotiations with SAP took longer than expected.

In the meantime, TUI’s IT department has been able to reduce the effort required for IT projects by 25% to 35%, he said.

That has freed up extra cash to develop mobile apps and, potentially, move into analytics technology.

TUI’s digital technology could also boost the company’s revenue by enabling customers to book meals, drinks or duty-free goods in advance of their flights.

“If you realise during your flight that you have forgotten your sun cream, we might give you the opportunity to order it and have it waiting for you when you arrive at your destination,” said Cares.

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