One of the biggest trends in travel over the last decade has been the empowerment of consumers. Social media, price comparison sites, on demand services and new geolocation apps are just some of the factors that have given consumers more control over their travel experience.
In times gone by the local high-street travel agent was in a very powerful position – they held all the information on the best prices, routes and services. Similarly, when booking plane tickets, unless you had hours to spare phoning every airline to check prices, you had to assume that the flight you booked was competitively priced. Now, with online booking, price comparison and meta-search, consumers wield a lot more power.
The travel industry has become much more competitive and, thanks to rating sites, service has generally also improved. However, the development of travel tech has been uneven - airline and hotel sectors have borne the brunt of technological innovation. Coach and train travel has, until very recently, remained largely untouched. This is now changing.
As the expectation of consumers across the board has been raised, coach and train companies are now under a much higher level of scrutiny. This, along with the general rise in popularity of coach and train travel as an alternative to air travel, has precipitated a boom in travel tech companies that target different forms of transportation.
Travel tech companies are competing to see who can offer the best and most relevant information, pricing and booking options. Some companies have sought to go down the multi-mode travel route, attempting to provide data on planes, trains and coaches in one search. Other startups, like Busbud , have chosen to focus on one method of travel, with the aim of providing the most complete set of travel and price information to consumers.
As the technology improves, consumers will get used to a more joined up experience such as being able to plan their travel from door-to-door. Competition between different modes of travel will also increase, as planes will now compete with the convenience and reach of coaches and trains. In the long run, this could lead to improved services and lower prices on all modes of transportation.
Social media and rating sites have raised expectations about what travellers can expect from accommodation, tourist sites and restaurants. Soon, coach and train travel routes will be included in these sites as a matter of routine, further influencing how consumers choose their means of travel. Currently, price and travel time are the dominant factors, but other aspects like WiFi availability, the route the coach or train takes and on-board customer service, will play a bigger role.
The cat is out of the bag in terms of how businesses treat their customers. Democratisation of choice in the travel industry has raised the expectations of consumers and forced businesses to respond with better choice and competitive prices. Train and coach companies are now experiencing the full force of consumer empowerment and tech companies are rushing to help. This is great news for consumers – more technological innovation will make travel a better experience.