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Two coaches on coach tour holiday driving along empty road

The biggest travel trends of 2019 for the coach tour industry

By | Coach Tour, Feature, Holiday, Travel | No Comments

As we near the end of the decade, travel is shifting to offer a more personalised experience. Fuelled by the rise of social media and a new appreciation for unique cultural experiences, today’s traveller expects to be able to create their own adventure. 2018 was the year for TV tourism (think Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland) and eco-tourism. 2019 will see more of the same, but new developments in technology and changes in traveller attitudes will inspire new trends. So what should tour companies expect this year, and, more importantly, how can they deliver the best experience to their customers?

Wellness holidays go mainstream

‘Self-development stays’ have existed in some form for decades, but they’ve become increasingly popular in the past few years. Wellness tourism worldwide was worth £500bn in 2017, and last year grew at more than twice the pace of tourism overall. An emphasis on better emotional self-care, driven in part by the rise in Instagram-inspired wellbeing retreats, has brought the wellness trip into the mainstream.

In January, VisitScotland published its annual review of travel trends. The review noted an increase in demand for holidays centred around improving oneself, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The UK coach tour industry, then, is well placed to respond to this trend. 2019 is the year to start offering trips that cater to this new client base, whether through curated retreats, ethically-minded hideaways or traditional local events.

Wellness travel becomes the next travel trend

Eco-conscious excursions evolve

Just like the wellness travel trend, 2019 will be a big year for “green getaways” – trips focused on getting back to nature and respecting the environment. Sure, eco-friendly travel has been a hot topic for a few years now, but it’s only in the past year that travel companies have begun to grasp the potential value of them. Not only do they help conserve the environment for future visitors, but a travel company’s eco-credentials can also entice a new generation of environmentally aware travellers.

A recent study by Booking.com found that 86% of global travellers would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay. That’s why coach tour companies should use 2019 to begin integrating more eco-friendly features on your tours. If you can adapt your vehicles to reduce the environmental impact, do it. Adding tree-planting, wildlife conservation or wild camping to your tour itineraries could open up a whole new world and simultaneously conserve our own planet. What’s not to love?

Travelling on an eco-friendly coach tour is the new travel trend

Authenticity beats package

Just as eco-holidays grew from an increased awareness of the impact of travel on our environment, the demand for authenticity in travel has been fuelled by an increased focus on the impact on local cultures. Travellers in 2019 don’t want to be a spectator, they want to be an active participant, and, just as importantly, they want to learn. In fact, over half (56%) of global travellers claim they learned invaluable life skills while travelling.

This push for authenticity was apparent in the rise in domestic tourism last year. Travellers want to be immersed in a culture, even if it’s the culture of a neighbouring town or city. For coach tour companies, that means pushing activities over sight-seeing. Partner with local businesses to allow travellers to develop new skills based on local knowledge and practices. The more visual the activity (think pottery-making or gin-distilling) the better. After all, behind the push for authenticity is the ever-present desire for social-friendly photo opportunities.

Personalisation is the travel trend

The one-size-fits-all model of holidays will no longer cut it. Travel companies have responded by shifting to curated experiences that deliver hyper-relevant individualised content direct to the customer. Coach tour companies might want to study the following statistics found in the Booking.com study:

  • 34% of travellers now expect travel recommendations for them
  • 41% want travel brands to use technologies such as AI to make travel suggestions based on past travel experience.
  • 52% would be excited about tech travel innovations such as a digital tour guide

New technologies are at the heart of helping travellers create their own adventures. For coach companies, this means identifying a customer’s interests and catering subsequent offers to them. A customer who books a hiking tour in the Scottish Highlands, for instance, would be more receptive to additional offers for hiking gear than someone who’s booked a city break.

Personalisation as an essential travel trend of 2019

Social media is still essential

That means try to get your coach tour company included in the post, either by a direct @ of your company or through a hashtag (for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Of course, you can offer incentives to passengers, such as being entered into a prize draw, if they include your custom hashtag in their posts.

Social media will also continue to be an invaluable marketing tool. The only real difference will be a bigger focus on targeted content. Even the smallest of tour companies now have access to tools that allow them to optimise their message for different audiences. Customer personas and social analytics software allow you to narrow down your branding to laser precision. After all, it’s not just about getting your content in front of as many people as possible; it’s about targeting the right people at the right time.

Smartphone in travel

Micro-trips become more common

2019 will see a rise in the number of travellers looking for short-breaks. And when we say short, we’re talking as little as one to two days. This is in part due to financial constraints – paying for two weeks in the sun is not an option for everyone, after all. But it’s also due in part to travellers opting for a genuine ‘travel’ experience over a ‘holiday’. Travelling to multiple locations requires more planning and is usually more expensive than staying in a single setting. That’s why modern travellers will often opt for several short-stay trips spread across the year.

The popularity of the micro-vacation can also be attributed to the rise in ‘bleisure’ trips, where the traveller combines a business trip with a few days of leisure. It makes sense, after all, to take advantage of time in a new country that you might not otherwise visit. But these ‘bleisure’ trips offer coach tour operators a unique opportunity too. Single day round-trips and even half-day packages could be just the ticket for time-strapped passengers. Be warned, however, as one- day round-trips can entail a significant amount of time on the road, so make sure to stock up on onboard entertainment features.

Retrofitting your public transport

To find out more about the top travel trends of 2019, get in touch with Sygnal today.

Exploring a country by rail

5 reasons to explore a new country by rail

By | Feature, Holiday, Rail, Travel | One Comment

As short haul flights get cheaper and countries become more urbanised, you could be forgiven for thinking that the once great train journey is a relic of a bygone era. With airlines working to cram more people on flights and road trips becoming more motorway-centric, we’re becoming increasingly detached from the idea of travel as an adventure.

But while some countries have seemingly outgrown their rail network, there are still plenty of nations that rely on trains as their central transport system, and with good reason. Not only are trains usually cheaper and easier to access than most flights, they’re more energy efficient too. If you’re planning to explore a new country but want to keep your feet firmly on the ground, travelling by train could re-ignite your wanderlust and give you a unique perspective on this underrated transport.

1. See a country from ground level

Most tourists, when visiting a country with a large land mass like the United States, will opt to jump between locations by flying – but this isn’t necessarily the best way to see a new country. Watching all the different sights of new country zip past your window allows you to study the landscape in a way that’s impossible with flying, and is infinitely more comfortable than driving yourself. Riding by train allows you to enjoy your surroundings without the worry of reaching locations on time or getting lost, meaning you can focus on getting to know a country from the ground up.
Top choice: Riding the Trans-Siberian railway probably features on the bucket list of every dedicated traveller, and with good reason. The longest rail line in the world, it stretches almost 10,000 km across several countries and takes in a diverse range of stunning landscapes. Without a doubt the most renowned railway journey, the TSR is still growing and offers a memorable trip where the journey is just as important as the destination.

View of countryside on train journey

2. Cover travel and accommodation in one

Although now a rare sight in western countries, sleeper trains are still a popular mode of transport around the world. For the discerning traveller, sleeper trains also come with some real advantages over other means of travel. With stop-offs in individual towns, these long-distance locomotives offer a unique opportunity to pull into town and explore from the get-go. 

On top of this, with your sleeper travelling between destinations at night, you can settle down at sunset and wake up in a new city without the rigmarole of driving/flying/trekking. There aren’t many other kinds of travel that can act as both hotel and transport.

Top choice: Although there’s any number of great sleeper train trips around the world, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express wins out thanks to it’s timeless, traditional feel, not to mention the stunning alpine landscapes. Setting off from London, the lovingly restored 1920s style train takes you through Paris and the Swiss Alps before making its stop in Venice. For those who enjoy getting there in style, this is your ideal journey.

Luxury Orient Express train accommodation for rail holiday

3. Get off the beaten track

For the seasoned traveller, one of the biggest attractions to using trains lies in discovering the unusual, the exotic and most tantalising of all, the unexplored. Of course, the accessibility of these hidden wonders depends on the history of a country’s rail infrastructure, but most nation’s rail network will cover areas you had never considered visiting.

Countries originally built their railroads around their industrial requirements – bringing materials, machinery and workers to plantations and factories while ferrying products back to the major cities and shipping hubs. Many of these industrial towns still exist and can provide a fascinating insight into the real spirit of a country.

Top choice:  Despite its small size, Britain boasts some of the finest hidden rail routes in the world, and none is more rewarding to the inquisitive traveller than the Glasgow to Mallaig line. Twisting up the west coast of the Scottish highlands with lochs, waterfalls, ruined castles, the base of Ben Nevis (Britain’s highest mountain) and a historic viaduct best known for its appearances in the Harry Potter films, this is the only way to see the Highlands.

Train on viaduct explore Scotland on a train holiday

4. Travel for less

For those travelling on a budget, particularly younger travellers looking to explore on a shoestring, using rail networks can free up the budget for other activities. With low fares, you can cover a huge expanse at little cost. In fact, many rail companies in European countries offer tickets that allow you to jump on and off trains at no extra cost. This gives you the freedom to adapt your travel plans without incurring additional charges, or having to change your tickets altogether. As if that wasn’t enough, because services are generally more flexible on times than flying, you don’t have to plan your day around your train.

Top choice:  For a truly authentic taste of India, nothing comes close to taking one of the many long-distance train journeys across the country’s diverse landscape. For sheer variety in the landscape, you could do worse than the Nizamuddin Duronto Express, a 20-hour expedition from Pune to Delhi. Taking in everything from desolate deserts to breathtaking mountains, scenic rivers to bustling cities, the NDE gives you every reason for visiting India in one adventure, and at just under £30, it won’t break the travel bank either.

Train passing by sea during a rail holiday in Europe

5. Jump between cities at will

Train stations, unlike airports, tend to be built in close reach of a city. This means easy access for travellers arriving by rail, with no arduous check-in process or invasive searches on the way. Arriving in the heart of a city makes for easier exploration and gives you a central point around which to orient yourself.

Uncomfortable with flying? Jumping between destinations on the rails offers a calmer and more meditative approach. Gone are the intrusive searches, the endless lines at the check-in desk and those pesky limits on liquids. Best of all, there’s rarely a luggage allowance and you can arrive two minutes prior to a train leaving the station and jump onboard without complication.

Top choice: For those with a taste for new experiences, few places on earth can offer such a wide array of different cultures within such easy reach of each other as eastern Europe. The close proximity of capitals within this area of the continent allows you to jump not just between cities but also countries at will. With Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Ljubljana and Budapest all within a few hours train journey of each other, you can take in the diverse beauty of several countries – in the same day – without ever boarding a flight.

Multiple train platforms in city centre for rail holiday

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Using your smartphone while flying

Can an official airline app really increase flight bookings?

By | Feature, Holiday, Technology | No Comments

The smartphone is changing the way we travel, but what does it mean for the airlines?

New commercial technology can be both magnificent and terrible. At its best, new technology refines a process and simplifies tasks we once thought were impossible. At its worst, new technology adds a whole new set of problems to an already challenging procedure.

Technology is designed as a direct response to our needs, but when it makes our lives harder, it endangers the public’s perception of the brands to which it’s tied. That’s why airlines looking to develop a smartphone app for their customers should think long and hard about what they include. One path leads to increased bookings, greater customer loyalty and more overall revenue. The other – where an airline app actually frustrates the check-in process – leads to lost sales, angry customers and a damaged brand.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Simplify the process

A branded airline app has a myriad of benefits for the typical passenger, but at its heart, an airline app works because it invariably makes the booking, boarding and flying experience more convenient – and that’s good news for the customer and the airlines. For passengers, it means there’s no need to worry about remembering tickets, as they can download digital plane tickets direct to their smartphone (and who’s really going to forget their phone in this day and age?).

The airline app also makes booking easier by centralising the process on one, easy to navigate platform. The structure of browsers on mobile makes it difficult for a booking site to cache all the details entered, especially if the process isn’t finished in one. Customers are more likely to look elsewhere when a website forces them to jump through hoops to reach the payment page. An official airline app allows the passenger to save their details and book a last-minute flight securely and quickly through a personalised platform.

Plane booked through airline smartphone app taking off

Apps = increased sales opportunities

An app can do far more than just simplify the boarding process. It also provides many more opportunities to sell than the traditional online site. Airlines that think of the entire travel process, and make provisions for it, are in a better position to increase ancillary revenue. In-app check boxes inquiring the customer’s preferred transport for getting to the airport can lead to additional sales opportunities, if not by the airline, then by a partner company.

In turn, airlines can push through new offers and upgrades and offer cut-rate flights tailored to the optimum times for that individual based on previous in-app behaviour. An app can provide useful links to other services offered by the airline. For instance, EasyJet’s official app links to their car hire service, so passengers can book a car from the airport when they arrive. In this way, airlines can look to increase ancillary revenue and encourage brand loyalty.

Man in monochrome gazing out of airport terminal thinking about official airline apps

Increased personalisation

Smartphone apps come with a range of dividends for the passenger, but their real value lies in the direct link they provide between the airline and the customer. Encouraging passengers to book through the smartphone app enables airlines to study customer behaviour on an individual level, and tailor subsequent offers around this knowledge. Because the app caches previous interactions, airlines can build up a more accurate profile of the customer and, from this information, they can provide offers specifically tailored to the customer’s needs.

An official airline app can also provide additional features for passengers, like a handy travel guide. Digital guides to the weather, currency rates or cultural practices may seem like a simple gesture, but they actually serve a double purpose. Not only do they give passengers a convenient and enjoyable start to their holiday, guides establish the airline as a travel authority, making it more likely passengers will refer back to them for their next flight.

Bald man using official airline app on tablet mid-flight

Cut out the middle man

By using an app, customers can be sure they’re getting their tickets directly from the source, without the worry of third-party hidden fees. There’s nothing more frustrating for passengers when they check flight times on a third-party meta-search engine and see one price, then realise there was a better offer through the company’s official website, or vice-versa.

For customers, the appeal of an app comes down to the impression they are communicating directly with a corporation, and are therefore getting the most up-to-date offers and information. Flight changes can happen in an instant – push notifications sent through the app can alert passengers immediately and give them more time to react; an essential feature in a large airport that can take hours to navigate. With this direct connection, however, comes a responsibility on behalf of the company. To maintain the trust garnered through an app, airlines must constantly develop, update and innovate their line of communication.

Departure boards falling out of use in favour of airport apps and mobile travel technology

With opportunity comes responsibility

While features like mobile notifications of flight landings, gate announcements, delays and an onboard flight tracker can streamline the boarding procedure, these only work when they’re managed effectively. Failure to regularly update information on the app opens airlines up to a slew of potential complaints. That’s why it’s vital airlines consider their capabilities before investing in an official airline app, and automate as much of the process as possible.

Likewise, a poorly designed app is unlikely to inspire confidence in first-time customers. Ensuring the app has a functional, clean user interface (UI) will go a long way to bringing customers back for their next holiday. A cluttered, glitchy UI, on the other hand, could put customers off for life, particularly if an in-app error has cost them money or, worse yet, caused them to miss a flight. Consistent branding is also key; a branded app has succeeded when a customer can’t book a holiday without first checking the app.

Passenger using her smartphone while flying

Of course, airlines that can offer a stress-free check-in are more likely to get return customers. Those that fail to adapt now will be left behind as the smartphone generation becomes the ultimate source of revenue for airlines.

Ironically, the rigmarole of a holiday can be a stressful enough experience – embracing technology brings us one step closer to consolidating all these little chores into one, manageable platform.

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