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Paste yIntroduction of Singapore and US e-commerce market (Travel Sector):

Background

The estimated worldwide ecommerce sales for 2017 is predicted to be 2.2 trillion USD.  Businesses are growing digitally to cope with the rising number of online shoppers, enabling them to sell their products and services to a wider pool of consumers. Excluding the logistic industry, the booming development in online transactions and the appearance of online travel agencies foster the quick economic growth rate in mainly airline and hotel industry.

The tourism sector and businesses are also benefitting from travel e-commerce. According to the source (World Tourism Organization, March 2017 Barometer), global travel exports are valued at $1.5 trillion in 2016. The United States is, by far, the largest receiver among all with $246 billion, and almost half of the revenue, $122 billion, were initiated by travel e-commerce. Apparently, travel agencies have gained initiative in the travel industry and are keen to tap into the e-commerce market with the rise of website and apps like Expedia, Trivago and TripAdvisor.  

Purpose

The objective of this report is to help Singapore grow their digital businesses in the travel industry. By considering the USA travel e commerce market, companies in Singapore can learn from them to grow their digital businesses and cater to the increasing demand from consumers more efficiently and effectively.

Scope

The report will focus on travel e-commerce in Singapore and United States. Thus, it will mainly cover the airline industry. However, the hotel industry may be mentioned as they are correlated. The report is not covering B2C travel e-commerce industry only.

Limitations

As there is limited information about Singapore’s e-commerce in the travel sector, we spend large amounts of time to find the secondary data. The report is not covering the B2B and B2G e-commerce industry.

Sources and methods of data collection

A secondary research was conducted through various search engines such as books, newspaper articles, databases, e-journals, e-books, internet resources such as Google. However, primary research was not done in this report.

Findings & Analysis:

Singapore’s e-commerce market

1.) The rise of mobile-commerce

With high smartphone penetration and internet coverage in Singapore (as seen in the figure 1 below), it provides a fertile ground to provide easy accessibility for online travel agencies and airline websites. Moreover, itineraries can be more personalised to cater to consumer’s needs conveniently via travel apps and websites such as Wego and the Singapore Airlines App.

Figure 1

Singapore Internet Statistics and Telecommunications

4,699,204 Internet users as of June 2016, 81.3% of the population, according to ITU.

According to Go-Global 2016, Singapore’s e-commerce user penetration was at 57.31% in 2015 and is expected to hit 74.20% by 2020. Revenue in Singapore’s e-commerce in 2016 had a spiralling growth and finished with 3994 million USD, which is twice in number compared to 2010. Traveling (Air-tickets & hotel booking) and clothing were the top two categories. Due to the rising demand for the travel industry among online consumers, it is imperative that companies in the travel sector heavily invest in their information technologies to have competitive edge among other competitors.

    

Based on figure 2 (According to Capturing the Asian Millennial traveller)

In Singapore where online retail space and infrastructure are better established:

Online air ticket purchases were as high as 71% while online booking of accommodations is 66%.

This shows that travel e-commerce is popular among Singaporeans. Also, service provider websites are the most preferred choice than travel aggregator and online sources.  

2) Business profitability

Travel e-commerce in Singapore has enabled Singapore’s businesses to maximise profits while providing the best services for their customers. It helps the business to earn huge revenue as it bypasses intermediaries and offers services directly to end consumers.

Based on the diagram below, in Southeast Asia (SEA) the e-commerce and travel sector will grow an estimated 10% in profits from 2015 to 2025. This shows that e-commerce travel is constantly growing and there is an increasing demand for E-Commerce in Singapore’s travel industry.

3)Government Agencies

The Singapore government is helping companies to improve e-commerce in Singapore. Based on the Straits Times article on 23rd February 2017, the government will roll up and invest 80M SGD to SMEs Go digital programme in 2017 Singapore Budget Speech. The aim of SMEs Go digital programme is to help SMEs build digital capabilities.

Moreover, grants are open to Singapore registered companies to encourage technological innovation and adoption, redesign business models and processes in the travel sector to improve productivity and competitiveness. For e.g.: Business Improvement Fund (BIF) provided by Singapore Tourism Board.

An overview of BIF is given as shown in the diagram below:

Figure3

USA Airline E-commerce Market:

1) Wider geographical pool of consumers

US E-commerce can attract a wider geographical pool of consumers from many countries with diverse needs and age groups. As businesses are no longer constrained by geographical limitations of physical stores, they can sell travel and other related products easily to more customers locally and overseas through Ecommerce channels.

For e.g.: The Priceline Group, INC. It is an American based travel company, operating in over 225 countries and territories via online and is available in more than 43 languages.

As Priceline enables users to book and compare airline tickets, make accommodation and road-railing reservations, consumers can easily plan the entire trip. Having acquired sites like Agoda.com and Booking.com, Priceline provides a wider range of travel information. With Priceline’s collaboration with TripAdvisor, consumers can instantly book their trips rather than wait for the 24-hour booking confirmation from other sites.

Strong operating performance of gross bookings from 2008-2016:

Figure 4

Largest increase of $12.6B USD (i.e. 23% increase) of gross bookings from $55.5B USD in 2015 to $68.1B USD in 2016.

According to Priceline Group, 2017.

Strong operating performance of hotel bookings from 2008-2016:

Figure5

Largest increase of $125M USD (i.e. 29% increase) of million room nights booked across PCLN from 2015-2016.

According to Priceline Group, 2017.

Ways Singapore e-commerce in the travel industry can learn from USA

Singapore companies can widen their geographical pool of consumers in the travel e-commerce sector by having more publicity through advertisements and celebrity endorsements in various platforms such as Facebook, twitter, and YouTube.

For e.g.: Wego is not an internationally recognised due to its lack of publicity as compared to competitors such as Priceline and Trivago.

Moreover, Singapore e-commerce can improve their online websites and apps. For e.g.: Wego is available in 20 languages while Priceline is available in over 43 languages. Moreover, Wego is only accessible in 52 countries while Priceline is available in over 225 countries. Thus, these factors limit consumers from accessing Singapore e-commerce and prefer to use internationally recognised websites such as Expedia, Priceline and Trivago.

2) Customer satisfaction and customer service

US companies are aware that the crux to stand out among competitors serve customer with attentive care. Pursuant to OuterBox 2017, U.S. online shoppers spend USD$327 million in 2016, up almost 45% from 2015.

US online travel agencies emphasise online responsiveness to ensure their online platforms are primed for online shoppers. For e.g. American Airline’s customer service channel.

In 2011, American Airline’s social communication retired their social channel which was previously handled by a PR firm. They decided to better understand their customers through direct supervision. (See through figure 6) The strategy was to know the customer experience via authentic communication and real-time resolution. In 2013, they switched their social channel, to Twitter and Facebook to form a 24/7 service channel.   

Figure 6- American Airlines customer report chat room

Not only wanting to help consumers with their needs but also find out the leaking bucket in their business. CheapOair, founded in 2005 in NYC as a subsidiary of Fareportal, is already now one of the top five online travel agents.

CheapOair, at the inception, they found elderlies are often left at home when family go on overseas trips, soon they recognized this as a niche in the market and decided to serve the senior citizens (Refer to figure 7). It thereafter became the flagship of CheapOair. In the financial report of 2015, it showed that 83% of customers are willing to return to the firm’s service that other travel agencies do not supply; eventually, the services that CheapOair had put in the niche market has helped the firm to launch a huge step in their business.

Figure 7-Elders tickets discount

Alternatively, digital payment services such as Apple Pay and Visa checkout is offered. Customers are not required to fill in any forms before making payment, they can use their Touch ID to approve the transactions. With such services, customers can buy tickets and book hotels “one-handedly” increasing the convenience for them. For example, Virgin America offers Visa checkout. With a Visa Checkout account, customers do not need to type their address and re-enter their card number for transactions if the website supports Visa Checkout.

http://68.media.tumblr.com/d38d3189aff3d2c0036002e30b7d8ee7/tumblr_nkcl0oa4HD1tq3551o1_500.png

Ways Singapore e-commerce in the travel industry can learn from USA

According to STB (Singapore Tourism Board) 2016, there is a 15.2M international visitors’ arrivals. The service satisfaction index scored an average of 67.8 point, a drop from 70 in 2015. Tourism receipts (TR) declined 7.6 % over 2015 to S$21.8B.

The research assessed on customer’s experience, including characteristics such as travel agencies’ and airlines’ accessibility, responsiveness and confidentiality. The results showed that Singapore’s service standards are dropping.

Due to personnel constraints, customers experience long waiting times on the phone, and some complain that they are unable to even find an appropriate channel to report. Thus, using another competitor’s service instead.

Moreover, users often have trouble accessing customer services’ channels.

For e.g.: Wego. Customers would have trouble to find out its email address, and wait for several working days before receiving a reply.

Lastly, analysing customer reviews and satisfaction are conducive to probe into new markets. USA travel agency CheapOair offer customers more diverse choices including pet and elderly friendly accommodation and discounted tickets. These initiatives increase more profits and customer recognition.

3) Artificial Intelligence(AI) and multi-language (Expedia & Visit Orlando)

Artificial Intelligence in USA have been gaining popularity and is integrated into the travel industry. For e.g. Expedia has a Facebook Messenger bot and a Skype bot. Based on customers’ needs, Expedia will give suggestions of various hotel bookings and customers can make hotels’ bookings quickly. The Facebook Messenger bot is available worldwide to facilitate customers queries.

Expedia introduced its Skype bot as it wanted to help customers who have more complex travel itinerary that includes booking, cancelling or updating plans. Expedia is the first chatbot on Skype to connect to a travel agent within the platform for free.

 

Above: Expedia bot on Skype iOS app, Expedia.com Above: Expedia bot on Facebook Messenger app, Expedia.com  

   

On the other hand, Visit Orlando is one of the first tourism boards to integrate AI into various platforms to answer more complex travel searches such as the best brunch spots.

Visit Orlando operates its webpage with 15 different languages and multilingual staff serve all year round to support its live chat customer service (as shown in figure 8 & 9). This allows the corporation to fulfil the customer's’ requirements and answer the tourists in other languages. To satisfy customers’ needs while traveling, the priority for the travel sector industry in Singapore is that they must ensure that the customers will be comfortable for the whole trip.

Figure 8

-Visit Orlando’s multilingual service

Figure 9

Ways Singapore can learn from USA

Singapore can further improve their artificial intelligence by improving software and having robots to facilitate the e-commerce travel industry. Moreover, government can provide assistance by giving more useful information such as raising awareness of grants, loans and subsidies available in the respective Singapore government agencies for the start-ups, medium sized and large corporations. This assistance would encourage more Singapore’s companies in the travel sector to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and technology in their daily routines. Thus, this would enable them to stay relevant in the current, competitive industry.

The purpose of using AI powered consultants is to handle queries more effectively and efficiently. As AIs are more capable of interacting with customers in various languages, it will shorten customer’s waiting time and the whole operation process. The airline industry should integrate more AI features into their services, and recruit language specialties/ a third party (e.g. translation agency) to ensure the correct use of language with customers. Although developing a complete AI system could be costly, companies will be saving large amount of money in the long run. Moreover, AI provides extreme convenience for tourists from various parts of the world.

Conclusions:

1.  Singapore e-commerce has hit almost $4000 USD in 2016, and is expected to be doubled by 2000. Flight tickets and hotel bookings were ranked in the top two categories for e-commerce revenue.

2. By 2025, in Southeast Asia, e-commerce, which includes clothing, electronics, household goods, and travel (hotel, flight, road hailing) will together contribute to more than 90 percent of the total retail spend.  

3. The Singapore government are investing massive amounts of money to help SMEs implement their digital business. For e.g.  Government will roll up and invest 80M SGD to SMEs Go digital programme in the 2017 Singapore Budget Speech and BIF, a grant, provided by STB.

4. In the US market, it has been proven that travel agencies who serve a wider geographical pool of consumers receive more revenue.

5. By optimising travel websites such as CheapOair and American Airlines, it was proved that there is an increase in the usage of these online travel platforms.

6. It was found that using messaging platforms such as Facebook messenger and Skype, it has increased a lot of convenience for online consumers.

Recommendations:

1. Widen the geographical pool of customers in the travel sector of Singapore by making their online travel sites and apps available in more countries

2. Provide multilingual services for customers of different nationalities. For e.g. Visit Orlando not only offer English and Mandarin, which are the most spoken languages, but also other languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and French...etc.

3. Offer complete services for any ancillary requirements that could happen in the itinerary. For e.g. CheapOair helps their customers to find pet friendly hotel so that people can take care of their pets also during the trip.

4. Broaden Singapore’s online customer service channels by integrating them into more social media platforms such as WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat and Kakaotalk.

5. Singapore should embrace mobile payment and digital wallet services in the travel industry. For e.g. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay. Such cashless payments would increase the convenience of consumers.

6. Increase the use of Artificial Intelligence technology to serve more customers effectively and   efficiently. For e.g. The hotel and airlines industry can analyse caller's’ tone, tempo, keywords and grammar to direct calls to agents with the required skills to assist in customers’ queries. This helps to reduce the waiting times of customers significantly.

References/Works cited

Introduction: Background

https://wall-street.com/us-ecommerce-expected-continue-future-growth/

https://www.ustravel.org/system/files/Media%20Root/Document/Research_Fact-Sheet_Global-Travel-Trends.pdf

1. Singapore Findings and Analysis

1.1 The Rise of Mobile Commerce

http://www.visitsingapore.com/content/dam/MICE/Global/bulletin-board/travel-rave-reports/Capturing-the-Asian-Millennial-Traveller.pdf

. Pg 10 & 11 http://www.singaporeair.com/saar5/pdf/Investor-Relations/Annual-Report/annualreport1617.pdf

http://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/us/ppsclub-krisflyer/use-miles/redeem-miles/   

1.2 Business Profitability

http://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/gb/media-centre/press-release/article/?q=en_UK/2009/July-September/23Jul2009-1817

1.3 Government Agencies

https://www.stb.gov.sg/assistance-and-licensing/grants/pages/business-improvement-fund-(bif).aspx

http://graphics.straitstimes.com/STI/STIMEDIA/Interactives/2017/02/budget-2017-glance/index.html

2. USA Findings and Analysis

2.1 Wider Geographical Pool of Consumers

http://www.pricelinegroup.com/about/factsheet/

2.2 Customer Service and Customer Satisfaction

https://www.cheapoair.com/about-us/

http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1696&context=thesesdissertations

http://www.outerboxdesign.com/web-design-articles/mobile-ecommerce-statistics

https://econsultancy.com/blo

g/63851-how-american-airlines-developed-its-approach-to-social-customer-service/

2.3 Artificial Intelligence(AI) and multi-language (Expedia & Visit Orlando)

https://digitaltravel.wbresearch.com/

https://apex.aero/2016/03/24/airlines-chatbots-stickers-snaps

https://www.stb.gov.sg/trade-events/events/Documents/Travel%20Agent%20Roadmap.pdf

https://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/introducing-expedia-bot-skype/  

http://www.stuzo.com/insights/mobile/early-facebook-messenger-bots-a-critique-and-look-forward/expedia-bot-facebook-messenger/

https://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/introducing-expedia-bot-skype/h

3.Conclusions

http://www.collinsonlatitude.com/expertise/our-clients/virgin-america/

http://www.retaildive.com/ex/mobilecommercedaily/virgin-america-swipes-stake-in-mcommerce-with-visa-checkout-integration

http://www.moneytimes.com/articles/7993/20151104/virgin-america-airbnb-latest-collaboration-earning-virgin-america-points-airbnb.htm

http://fortune.com/2017/05/19/ai-changing-jobs-hiring-recruiting/

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