The impact of digital on the travel sector
As a neurotic new parent, I avoided travelling with my progeny for some years. I mean: think of all the extra stuff we’d need to carry, for starters. Not to mention anxiety about feeding them, entertaining them or leaving them behind on an overcrowded aeroplane. So parenthood meant an extended period of holidays in my home country.
By the time we were ready to go abroad again, everything had changed.
Travel agents had shut down, specialist travel journalism had all but disappeared, big travel providers were going bust. What lead to this transformation was, of course, my own field of business: information technology. Now, everyone was busy booking their own travel arrangements at bargain prices over the internet.
The speed and scale of this transformation has been staggering. A recent survey suggested that 84% of young Americans had never used a travel agent. Depending on how and where you measure it, something like 60-90% of travel is now booked online. Anyone in the travel business who wants to stay in business is going to have to get online.
This isn’t just about how people book their travel, but how they plan it, too. According to Google, 70% of travellers with smartphones use their device to research trips and 79% of them then went on to complete a booking. And research isn’t purely price driven. A plethora of question and answer sites have sprung up to help service the needs of travellers. With these, curious holidaymakers can get instant information from locals on the best ways to get what and where they want.
For those in the travel industry, computerised change might seem like a knife, slicing away a terrifying slab of opportunities. But it doesn’t need to be, because like most knives, this one can cut both ways.
Consider: as customers move online, travel agents can gain invaluable insight into their behaviour. This creates massive marketing opportunities. And there’s a further silver lining here. High street retailers playing the big data gain only have an online trail to scour for insights. As smartphone owners travel, however, they also leave physical trail via GPS. This can be a gold mine for travel marketing.
Plus, there’s a great deal more dots to join than monitoring steps to the shopping cart and abandonment rates. A travel experience is no longer seen as a single package. Instead, it’s a complex web of transport and car hire, activities and accommodation, research and itineraries. Instead of looking at the browser, we can glean useful data from calendars and apps. The scope – and quantity – of the information available is daunting.
Indeed, the sheer scale is one of the key issues facing the industry. The other is that the data gathered can be fragmentary and hard to scrutinise for patterns. To get value from this rich seam you need professional analytics, such as those provided by Edit. We have the expertise to identify the important trends across a mass of information, understand them and help present them in clear, easily accessible visual formats.
Once you’ve pulled the patterns out of your data, what can you do with it? Perhaps the most critical in this fast-paced and often expensive sector is pricing strategy. Consumers often choose on price, and the rise of no-frills carriers like EasyJet has lead to an expectation of discounts. Effective use of big data can replace slow manual fare changes with super-smart and speedy automation. This not only saves costs, but ensures you can offer prospective customers the bargains they’re expecting.
Another important area to target for improvement is customer feedback. There’s little in life guaranteed to elicit an angry response than a bad travel experience. And with sites like TripAdvisor, it’s now quick and easy for customers to effectively punish providers that earn their ire. Analytics can help you understand what makes customers cross and how you can avoid it. In doing so, satisfied consumers can then use the same channels to engage with and boost your brand.
Lessons like this were learned by online travel platform KimKim, which used them to attempt the impossible: re-create the travel agent experience on the internet. Founded by an ex-TripAdvisor executive, it sought to re-personalise the online search for travel information. The site asks customers to complete a short questionnaire, and uses the data to build them a set of personalised travel suggestions. To help get the message out, they combed through their site statistics and used the data to build a picture of their audience. From this information they were able to identify effective long-tail keywords and potential blog topics. Armed with these new weapons, they were able to improve their traffic from online searches by a whopping 300%.
Their business model could well be on to something. According to Accenture, personalisation is likely to be the next big growth area. 65% of travel executives are reporting it as an under-developed area in their business. The wealth of data available makes it possible to offer recommendations to customers and, further, to market it them in a personal way. Given how important travel experiences are to many people’s self-perception, this could be a critical catalyst in motivating purchases.
Who knows: given enough data and expert help, it might even get reluctant travellers like me buying those luxurious, lavish long haul packages.