Travel firms were told have enough of their own data to protect themselves against the online giants by personalising the experiences they offer their users.
At the Travolution Summit last week where new research into attitudes about personalisation in the travel sector was published in a whitepaper.
Chief executive of Travolution research partner <intent> Richard Harris told delegates that they must act to ensure the online “datagopoly” of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple don’t come between them and their users.
He conceded that these large global technology firms may also be valued partners, but said: “It’s the unique thing about our industry that our fiercest competitors the people we spend all day trying to kill are often also, in some other part of our organisations, our partners.
“But what we mean by the datagopoly is these large companies you are all very familiar with – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple – and we are at a moment in the history of the economy where data has a unique power.
“It’s been said many times data is the new petrol, the new oil, it is the thing that is a key asst for almost any business. We all know the ways in which Google threatens travel transaction businesses.
“They are moving from being just a search engine to being a commerce engine and moving further and further down the transaction funnel and that is threatening for many people in business.
“But what not everyone realises is that really these players, what they are able to do better than anyone else, is to aggregate and deploy data, and the way they do that is because they are, for the most part, always on applications, always on devices.
“That amalgamation of data means that they know their customers more intimately than any of us ever will. If we are a travel transaction site we will see our customers a few times a year. That’s when we’ll get really deep insight on our users. But Apple, they are getting deep insight about their users a hundred times a day, so is Google.
“And what they are doing with that data is increasingly creating an identity platform where they know their users, who are also our users, and they are creating gates, so if you’re a brand trying to interact with a user you are, in one way or another, going to have to go through these datagopolists.
“It means that when that happens they become the gatekeepers and the toll takers between the brands and their users and that is not a good long term situation.”
Responding to an earlier claim that travel is not doing personalisation well and that may be because it is a more complex sector than others, Harris said: “Certainly travel is complex, it is an ecosystem unlike many others. And there are so many different players with different niches in the market.
Full coverage: Travolution European Summit 2019
“But what we have shown is there is absolutely enough data in the travel industry to generate the kind of predictions and personalised experiences as required.
“It may feel like you don’t have enough data you need to generate the kinds of insights that Google or Apple can, well, you can. If you don’t have the capabilities in-house partner with someone but those insights are available.
“You can do that and I would argue you have to do that because if you don’t harness your own assets, if you can’t personalise your experiences, well, the only people who will will be Google Apple or Facebook.
“If you are above a few hundred thousand visitors to your digital properties and month I can tell you definitively you have enough data. The question is how do you harness it and deploy it.
Harris added he believes the travel sector hasn’t truly grasped what personalisation is or is capable of.
“The fact is that many people in travel conceive personalisation very narrowly and I think that’s a mistake because the capabilities of technology that’s available to travel companies has really expanded exponentially.
“Many, many companies use historical data and look backwards at what certain groups of users did in the past and what that can tell me about what I should do in the future and that leads to rules based personalisation which really isn’t where the cutting edge of data science or technology is.
“There are much more powerful ways to deploy to data, to personalise data. Over time that message will get out, but what is certainly true is that the largest companies in our vertical, the big giant consumer facing companies, they’ve got the message.
“They are investing in infrastructure and people in order to do this well and I think the question is how is everyone else going to survive and I think that’s an extremely important question.”
Harris added: “It [personalisation] is kind of a vague term but when you look at the responses to the survey what they call personalisation is things like demographics or what kind of device they are using.
“That is not personalisation, that is a fundamental delivery of UX appropriate to a device. If that’s the kind of personalisation that people are thinking of it’s probably going to fall short of where the cutting edge is.
“At the cutting edge it is getting very specific, down to individual users and down to predictive behaviours of individual users, meaning what is this particular person going to do next, what is their goal at this exact moment. That’s the level at which the technology permits and the most powerful brands are using today.
“Technically it is 100% possible [to give everyone a unique experience]. Right now I think the management capacity to deal with that isn’t there. One of the key message when we work with our partners is about de-averaging.
“What we mean by that if you can predict a user needs where they are in their shopping or booking journey and then de-average your users so instead of treating every individual as one single lump you can divide those into more refined buckets of users and tailor the experience appropriately you’ll be well ahead of the game.
“You may not get to 10 million different experiences, but if you can get to one you would be doing something much, much better than you are today.”