Comment: get the basics right when investing in technology

Comment: Alex Payne, chief executive of Big Bus Tours, explains the importance of digitisation in the sightseeing industry

Digitisation has changed leisure travel. Many travellers now go online to discover new destinations, to research, plan and book, get mobile tickets, publish their experiences and review companies.

Apps, social media, virtual reality, 360-degree videos and mobile tickets are now common terms in the traveller’s vernacular.

Tourists are switched on 24/7, interacting with travel brands at every stage of their trip. With this digital world, travellers expect more convenience, communication and choice than ever before, all at the push of a button.

None of this, of course, is a surprise. Over the last two decades technology has revolutionised many industries, not least travel.

Back then, some of today’s travel titans such as Expedia, and TripAdvisor were still fledging start-ups.

Today, technology is widespread and increasingly raises travellers’ expectations about how their whole experience should be simpler, richer and easier.

Understand customers

Before any travel business makes a heavy investment into digitisation, it is critical to get the basics right, and to know where your business is going; learn the digital landscape in your industry and speak to agencies renowned for digital innovation. This will help you understand how to use technology to improve the basics.

Just as important is to understand the hopes and desires of your customers.

If you have your own clear vision for the future of your business, you can develop a long-term technology roadmap.

Aim to identify those game-changing improvements that will wow your customers and are achievable given the resources and capabilities of your business.

One of the benefits of Big Bus Tours being a privately owned company is that we have the ability to invest in R&D and execute quickly, without the distractions of public shareholders, franchisees or other external stakeholders.

We teamed with a leading market research agency to spearhead some global research to understand who our customers are, what is important to them, and where we could improve – this alone brought clarity about what our technology development priorities should be.

We then partnered with a leading product consultancy, to support us in our ongoing efforts to create the right tickets at the right prices for our customers – getting the basics right.

Effortless flow

This resulted in the company launching a game-changing ticketing menu that helps create an effortless flow for our customers to purchase tickets and see the value in upgrading, both online and on-street.

The research also led to various other innovations over the following 18 months.

Our focus on cutting-edge technology is most apparent in the Big Bus Tours App, which re-launched last year following the rollout of free Wi-Fi for customers across our global fleet of more than 400 buses, and a launch of a more user-friendly website.

This has brought extra flexibility and the ability to make improvements quickly and easily.

Our research showed that a priority for our customers was knowing when the next bus would arrive.

As a result, Big Bus Tours was the first open-top bus tour company to implement real-time bus tracking globally, to bring route maps to life.

The ‘live map’ and ‘locate-me’ functionality was also implemented to cater for the digital needs of our customers.

Our ‘Hop-On Discover, Hop-Off Explore’ approach to city tours is based on fuelling the spirit of adventure in our customers, through local knowledge.

That’s where the Big Bus Tours App comes to life as an interactive city companion featuring exciting tour routes and itinerary suggestions for city visitors, with detailed maps that pinpoint Big Bus.

Maximise their stay

On average city breaks are three or four nights, so we wanted to help customers maximise their stay.

The improvements to the mobile app, as well as the enhanced ‘Iive map’ feature on the Big Bus Tours app, offers up-to-date real-time information, helping customers take control of their travel – customers can decide if they have time to take that selfie, sit back and enjoy a coffee, or wander around city landmarks without worry.

Authentic personalisation is the latest trend as customers seek a tailored “experience”.

We have incorporated this within the Big Bus Tours App, with a dynamic home screen that tailors content to customer preferences.

Utilisation of mobile marketing automation also allows Big Bus Tours to trigger personalised messages based on events and activities, identified by customer preferences and their location.

The multi-functional app also provides push notifications to customers, informing them of special offers and service messages including daily detours and stop closures. Responsive two-way messaging allows customers to get in touch with Big Bus Tours.

Finally, don’t be a slave to technology. It should support your business goals, not lead them, and so be ready to “zig” while others “zag”.

Our research reiterated how important live tour guides are, and how well humans can engage, entertain and inform their audience in ways that no pre-recorded commentary can.

This is one reason we’ve been increasing the presence of live tour guides across some of our biggest cities. So make sure the technology works for you, not the other way round.