By: Charlene Cai, Director, Audience Strategy at MediaCom

Travel industry is unarguably one of the industries that were the hardest hit by the pandemic in the last two years. While most categories have seen a rebound in sales and revenue as consumers and businesses adjust to the new normal, travel and leisure category continues to see significantly reduced spend going into 2022. There is good news however, as Stephanie Linnartz, president of Marriott International recounted to Yahoo! News in her interview, “from a big picture perspective, 2021 was a much better year than 2020. In the depths of this downturn, our business was down 90% with 25% of our hotels closed. And in the latest earnings call that we had, we talked about our business only being down in the 20% range in terms of same-store sales versus 2019, benchmarking '19 as a more stable year.” 
To capitalize and continue to stimulate consumers’ desire to get back out there and travel, travel industry is stepping up their game and look for innovative ways to enhance travel experience for customers. How they are doing it? Linnartz summarized overarching strategy perfectly in three key words - “data driven, tech enabled and human centered” 
In a world where data equals information, travel companies are also recognizing how they can leverage data to better understand their customers, and in turn deliver more personalized experience for them. Keith Waldon, founder and owner at Departure Lounge, a global travel agency shed light on how they are able to do a much better job at profiling customers and identifying their travel needs using data collected from customer surveys and other proprietary data sources. “(Profiling) helps us as advisors to customize the trip to get everyone what they need.”, Waldon explained. Consumer insights not only help improving the travel planning process, they also play a key role in their partnership with brands as agents are able to further customize the entire travel experience to ensure customers had access to their favorite shampoo brands and truly felt at home during their stay. 
Technology undoubtedly plays a tremendous role in innovations. At this year’s CES, Marriott unveiled Marriott Design lab, which Linnartz described as “10,000-square feet of flexible, state-of-the-art lab space at our corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland that we use to build, test, and explore new innovations in the hotel space with partners.” One example that especially caught our attention was their project with Ori, a robotics an architecture start up. The ORI hotel room of the future focuses on small space transformation, think a murphy bed lifts up and transforms your hotel room from bedroom to office space! Not only do such innovations provide more flexibility and adaptability to hotel customers, they are also key in increasing the sustainability of hotels in the future. 
Last but not least, as technology continues to transform our lives at an astounding rate, it is important to remember that travel industry is a service industry that should always remain “human centered”. As Linnartz points out, “I still believe human beings will be at the core of great travel experience”, adding technology will supplement, not replace, the human element of travel. For marketers and brands in the industry, it is important to bear this in mind as we continue to test out new tech innovation. Start every projection with the question “How can this improve our customers’ travel experience?” and you are on the right track.