The travel industry needs to use big data to create the same personal touch online offered in person by agents and hotels.
That was the message from expert panellists at the Travolution seminar Data Wars at London’s World Travel Market.
Duetto’s managing director Michael McCartan joined Andy Owen-Jones, co-founder and chief executive of bd4travel on stage at the trade show to discuss how OTAs can help drive traffic but travel firms need to keep it personal to keep their customers coming back.
“A lot of hotels say they are really good at providing a great experience on property,” said McCartan. “That’s a mind shift that needs to shift online, where the conversation starts. It’s not just about providing that great experience at the hotel.”
Owen-Jones said data can be used to personalise the browsing and booking experience online, and target what the customer actually wants, rather than “Throwing everything at them and seeing what sticks”
He added: “Everyone wants that agency experience where you go into a shop and talk to someone, but people are increasingly wanting it online – which is what we are trying to create.
“But almost every single OTA treats people the same. It’s a bit like going into a travel
agent for a look then going back three weeks later and being shown the same thing and treated like a new customer. We do that then wonder why only one in 200 people book.
“We are creating stuff for the average person. But how many people are the average person? The data is there but the industry needs a paradigm shift.
“If people want to be inspired, don’t try to get them to book and if people don’t want to book, don’t try to inspire them.”
Both panellists agreed that travel businesses must understand why they are capturing data before they work out how, in order to capitalise on the personalisation it can provide.
McCartan said hotel clients of Duetto’s that have put personalisation into practice have been big increases in revenue and put the rise in Airbnb bookings in recent years down to personal touch.
He urged hotels to follow suit, adding: “If you establish a relationship early on you can provide a much more pleasurable experience. Most business travellers just want to get to their rooms, but many hotels still have traditional check ins. Some people still want that but you need to find out before they arrive.
“The tools are there to do that.
“Big data is like water. It covers 80% of the world’s surface but we only drink 2% of it.”