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In the first decade of operations, Airbnb reached a market value of $31 billion. The tech giant has been able to achieve hockey stick-like growth because they offer a superior experience to traditional hotels. You can even interact directly with hosts, making it feel like you’re just staying at a friend’s place.

As Blake Morgan, a customer service expert, notes, these companies are the most successful in the travel game because the “experience is the most unique, the most innovative, and the most pleasurable for the customer.”

Not only do successful players in the travel sector, like Uber, have apps that work seamlessly and make everything more entertaining and convenient, they also utilize technologies, like big data and predictive analytics, to make tempting, timely offers to customers. They know they’ve revolutionized the experience—and they know how to sell it.

Airlines should be concerned about how to compete. To prevent themselves from being left out, they need to future-proof their sales strategies now. To accomplish that, airlines can look to four successful companies for inspiration: TripAdvisor, Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon.

TripAdvisor: Travelers are Very Well-Connected. Take Advantage of That.

Think about this stat: 97 percent of travelers have an electronic device on them. This can’t be ignored.

Airlines need to be figuring out ways to gather insights about their travelers and interact with them. This is what will enable a better airline customer experience. TripAdvisor, a travel platform with 535 million reviews and 415 unique monthly visitors, is a good model to follow. Because the site does much more than simply facilitate bookings. They are the king of user-generated travel content—and apps engage travelers better.

What TripAdvisor has essentially done is change the way travel is booked. They’ve brought in a social media component, allowing online opinions to play a key role in what company gets business. That’s smart, considering the importance of social media to travel businesses today. Just consider these research findings:

Most importantly, through total engagement, TripAdvisor has built a platform travelers can trust. Airlines not only need to be interacting with customers on this site (and Facebook, Twitter, etc), but also must incorporate a social media element into their own apps. This is how they can better nurture trusting relationships with consumers.

Uber: Travelers Want a Seamless, Enjoyable Experience. Give It to Them.

Any airline business strategy needs to be centered around the customer experience. Focusing on the experience is how Uber has enjoyed such rapid success. Within seven years of launching, Uber bookings by business travelers surpassed taxi bookings.

How did this happen so quickly? It’s simple to understand. Uber’s app is simple and effective. Signing up just requires an e-mail and scanning your credit card. It takes one to two clicks to book a ride. The good news is that some airlines are learning quickly from Uber. For instance, EasyJet has cut the check-in process to just 20 seconds, thanks to passport scanning capability and automation of other processes.

But airlines can do even more, like Uber is doing with in-ride entertainment. To make the actual ride more enjoyable, Uber has turned its app into a content marketplace. For example, riders can get a customized 10-minute playlist for a 10-minute ride.

Airlines have long had entertainment on flights. But the time has come to use available data to enhance in-flight entertainment. Qantas has made progress here, teaming up with Samsung to offer a virtual-reality experience for customers. As flyers use these headsets, Qantas collects data in order to figure out how to personalize the travel experience for customers. For travel agents at destinations, such data could be very beneficial for creating in-flight content for passengers and targeting the right people.

Airbnb: Customers Value Interaction and Trust. Establish Those Things.

To return to the original point about why Airbnb has been so successful: It’s because of the app facilitates interactions and builds trusts between hosts and guests. The messenger function on Airbnb should be a part of any airline sales strategy. For instance, when a customer searches for flights, airlines should have a live chat option that’s not just easily and quickly accessible, but also equipped with the data and insights to ensure all the needs of the customer are addressed efficiently.  

KLM, by partnering with Facebook Messenger, has made great strides in building trustworthy and efficient interactions with flyers. This move helps the airline go where customers are, and address their needs in a way that’s appreciated. Additionally, while bots can certainly help with solving simple problems and delivering tailored offers to clients, the majority of customers still strongly prefer human customer service, especially for complex problems. Airbnb’s messenger service thrives because it’s a host interacting with a guest.

What airlines need to do with messaging platforms is use a mix of artificial intelligence and travel agents, like Kayak co-founder Paul English is doing with his new startup, Lola. Lola will use AI to drive self-serve features and personalize offers for clients, but will facilitate human interactions between travelers and agents through a chat-based interface. This way, customers get everything they want: the right offers and human communication.

Amazon: Customers Now Shop Differently. Change to Meet their Needs

Amazon doesn’t just offer one-click shopping and fast delivery, they also have unbeatable prices. They’ve even taken pricing competition to a whole new level, with an app that allows brick-and-mortar shoppers to scan barcodes and check prices and product reviews immediately.

In the airline industry, the ability to check various prices is precisely why third-party platforms like Expedia and Priceline have become so popular for bookings. Customers want to know they’re getting the best value. For airlines who want to generate more revenue through ancillary services, like shopping, they must take into account how Amazon has transformed the way shopping is done. Or else they won’t be able to compete.

Air Asia has taken some intelligent steps. The airline has introduced BIG Duty Free, a service that allows passengers to pre-order duty-free items and pick up those products at the airport. Even better, BIG Duty Free guarantees the lowest price. In addition to implementing a similar service to Air Asia, airlines can employ big data, like Amazon does, to more effectively pitch products. Travel agents can also play a role at the airport or through the app or online by directly targeting travelers with custom offers.

What the Future Holds

By utilizing the right technologies and taking inspiration from companies like Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor, airlines can build a successful sales strategy for now and the future. The good news is that many airlines are taking the right steps. But more progress is needed.

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