This article is based on Adriel Lubarsky’s interview with Samantha Ruiz on Adriel’s Curious City podcast (listen on iTunes, Soundcloud, or any podcasting app).
Companies didn’t know what to do with all that data
For decades, technology has not kept up with business needs. Now, with the emergence of big data, that is changing.
The travel industry has a famously huge amount of data. The trouble for a long time was actually storing and using it. Like Tnooz.com says, “Having all this data is nice, but the real value lies in the extraction of meaning from it.” Until recent advances in cheap data storage and more proficient analytics tools, travel companies often ignored or discarded the most complex data sets.
Samantha Ruiz is the CEO of Well Travelled, a company using “machine learning to translate big data and the traveler’s path to purchase into consumer insights.” She’s got years of experience in the industry and states bluntly that most of the data available are 3rd party data. And, in her own words “Travel data from 3rd party companies basically says ‘has traveled or has not traveled in the past 6 months.” Clearly, this is ripe for change.
Latching on to all of the technologies available and the understanding of the value of big data, large, well-funded companies with big data and engineering teams can now go as far as tracking mouse movements on a screen in order to better understand how customers interact with their products. Storing and understanding the habits, preferences, and needs of every traveler by tracking patterns online has led to a revolution in big data in travel.
This is supported by a report by Hospitality Net stating that “Three-quarters of travel professionals working with data believe that their department will receive budget increases in 2017.”
So how exactly is big data going to change travel forever? A research study by Amadeus identifies two segments: Operations, and customer experience. Last week we discussed how SMBs can maximize efficiency within a corporate travel program by extracting insights from big data. In this article, we’re going to focus on the latter.
Travelers’ data is going to improve their experience
The future of everything is personalization. As Samantha Ruiz said, “Everyone wants unique experiences. Nobody today says I want to go on a cookie cutter trip and I want to do the exact same things that everyone else did. Everyone wants to have this amazing experience that’s made just for them.”
What data is going to allow in the travel industry is what it has already done so well in music (Spotify), movies (Netflix), and shopping (Amazon). It’s going to create real connections between platforms and individuals (both leisure and corporate travelers).
As a report by Amadeus Travel Intelligences (PDF) states, “Information and insight have resulted in a move from a linear, transactional model to a multi-faceted, personalized and holistic relationship between brand and consumer.” Data permits unprecedented customer experience. At least, unprecedented in this sector.
How will data affect business travel
The benefits here are clear for individual travelers. You’re booking a fun trip, and companies everywhere can recommend add-ons making the experience more convenient (nearby hotels), unique (local-led tours), tailored to my taste (you like surfing? You’ve GOT to check out this beach. And here’s a discount for a board rental).
But what about for the traveling professional?
Well, ‘knowledge is power’ is an axiom that’s true everywhere. Starting with the planning stage, data (knowledge) can help make businesses more effective and efficient (power).
The Amadeus report gives an example. “Imagine that multiple colleagues within a company are included in an email chain about a particular project, and someone suggests a face-to-face catch-up meeting. An application built on top of the email program could combine data about each individual’s availability with location, travel duration, and price, to suggest the best possible venue for the meeting.”
This sort of solution should be integrated with software to complete the actual purchase of the tickets, balancing the needs of the business (location, hotel partnerships, meeting time) with the preferences of the individual traveler (airport preference, airline miles, particular accommodation needs).
Cool, right? But that’s not all.
Before you, the business traveler, has arrived at the destination for a meeting, conference, or event, data should have told platforms how to serve you better with more personalized products to be used once you’ve arrived. This is an enormous change in the potential of travel platforms like Expedia and Kayak to provide more than transactional benefit (help us buy a ticket). They’ll become our trusted advisors (tell us what to do).
How travel platforms will change with big data
A travel platform (think Expedia or Kayak) manages your travel, accommodation, car rental, and even concert and event experiences. With all of their information, they should – and will – be able to provide an enormous amount of personalized touch to your business trip.
Just by knowing where you are going and when you’ll be there, platforms can give suggestions that you will enjoy. An article in WIRED mentions that in addition to tailoring airline, route, and hotel choices for a business trip to Dubai, platforms can go further. “Perhaps a few thoughts on the best restaurants in Dubai for someone traveling on an expense account … or a free pass to shred the only indoor ski mountain in the world … or a twilight offer to play Arabian Ranches Golf Course.”
Samantha Ruiz says that her company, Well Travelled, can provide the data to take your experience even further. The average traveler looks at 38 sites related to an upcoming trip. Aggregating all of this information can lead to productive personalization and tips in business travel.
Knowing that you’re a marketing professional in a new city, a platform can recommend a Meetup to network with the right people. Understanding that you’re looking to sign a client in athletics for your agency and have been researching the sports scene in your destination, the travel platform might offer you discounted box tickets to a big game. The possibilities of a big data enabled Artificial Intelligence assistant are endless.
How big data will change airlines
Big data will affect one of the most important segments of your travel – the actual travel. Airlines, just like anyone else in the industry, are investing heavily into big data in order to provide their customers a better experience and, most importantly for them, win their loyalty and dollars. As one airline executive quoted in the Amadeus report says (PDF), “we’re in the business of IT, we just also happen to fly planes.”
Let’s say you sit down in seat 3B. First class, not bad. You get your vodka tonic (the airline knows it’s your favorite drink) and CNN is automatically turned on your television (of course they know you’re a business professional, we hope you’re not still impressed.)
You look over at your neighbor. Also with drink in hand (looks like a whiskey-coke) and CNN turned on. Must be in business.
You’re both watching the ticker, trying to remember your latest stock bets and match them to the screen.
Touchscreen technology will allow you to click the ticker and unveil a personalized analysis.
You, an engineer on the way to a client meeting, will get updates on the specs of the new product Apple just unveiled. Dimensions, RAM, processing power, and information useful to help your client make smart development plans.
Your neighbor, a marketer on the way to a conference, will get a stream of Apple ads, completed partnerships, and press releases, and a sneak peek at what the Apple booth will look like at their destination.
You, who bought the stock at $120, might be interested in a quick offer to purchase a second in flight drink to celebrate. You’ve earned it.
Your neighbor, who bought the stock at $180, isn’t in a position to buy another drink. But perhaps the airline will offer one for free, as consolation. He deserves it.
Either way, big data will lead to an amazingly personalized experience allowing airlines (and airports and hotels and anyone you can think of) to gain your loyalty through acutely refined decisions built in a deeper understanding of the customer. This is all brought to you by, you guessed it, big data.
So how will big data change our travel?
Already, our world is changed by data. Personalization comes from all ends, large and small. High-end, big budget companies can afford to invest millions into understanding data and curating customer experiences to retain loyalty and dollars.
Well Travelled is helping smaller brands do the same, by providing them with more detailed information about their customers (don’t worry, it’s all highly encrypted). What are companies going to do with all of this information?
Amadeus Travel Intelligence (PDF) has an answer. “There is so much customer data out there detailing shopping and buying behavior, check-in and baggage history, in-flight service preferences, airport movement, and customer service interactions. The challenge is to build a complete view of our individual customers with this data and personalize their experience accordingly.”
Imagine looking back on 2017 in 30 years, and trying to imagine our archaic and impersonal world without big data? We’re practically cavemen.
I’m a Brooklyn-born vagabond with a proud Russian heritage. I’m into startups of all kind, and anytime we can talk about the future of humanity’s interaction with robots, or just gab about good comedy and literature, I’m there. I also host the Adriel’s Curious City podcast, interviewing thought leaders about the future of their industries.