The digital gap in travel is widening as leaders surge ahead. You need to continually embrace change to stay in the game, says Jon Reay, founder and chief executive of Rewrite Digital.

Digital is rapidly transforming travel. You may still be selling holidays, flights or accommodation but the way you do it has radically shifted and continues to do so as we move into 2019.

With automation and machine learning, the most advanced travel companies are now evolving what they do faster than ever before.

What does this mean for everyone else? Here are four steps you can take:

Put digital at the centre

The 2019 travel company is a digital business. Put the responsibility of digital and innovation at board level and embrace it throughout your organisation.

Most of your sales are digital but how much of them are reliant on OTAs? Invest in your direct channels and incentivise customers to book direct to gain greater control and margins.

Consider the use of blockchain for inventory, lowering distribution costs and raising additional revenue.

Connect with your customers

The 2019 travel business maintains a number of different digital products. Your website is unlikely to be attracting the greatest share of engagement with your brand.

Establish digital-only products and services such as a virtual travel companion or concierge. Consider fusing the virtual and the physical with Augmented Reality (AR) and Internet of things (IoT) services. Use influencers to raise the exposure of your brand and smartly-targeted paid media to engage the highest value prospects. Use APIs to both provide and consume services.

Maintain a balance of owned, earned, paid and participating digital experiences, connecting with consumers in the channels and ways they want.

Activate customer data

Gain access to and act on rich customer data to grow repeat bookings, increase ancillary sales, improve the customer experience and reduce costs.

Avoid or sidestep OTAs that throttle direct interactions between travel operators and customers. Collect permissioned implicit and explicit customer data at every appropriate opportunity.

Use customer data to personalise experiences.

Analyse pooled data about the behaviour and attitudes of travellers to determine patterns and optimise experiences for everyone.

Customer data is a valuable resource in 2019, largely untapped by most travel companies until now.

Deliver happiness

Add a powerful boost to business performance by providing a delightful and seamless experience across all touchpoints.

93% of travellers globally claim their booking decisions are influenced by reviews. A single bad experience handled in the wrong way can severely dent or even bring down a business. But don’t just react to negative experiences. Continually optimise what you do to ensure your customers have a positive experience and tell the world about it.

Deliver happiness to your customers and other brands are more likely to partner with you, people will want to work for you, your reputation will precede you, and if you can scale, you’ll never have to turn people away.

The digital stakes have raised for 2019. Are you ready?