Travolution Innovation Report: Did the pandemic burst the ‘big data’ bubble?

Travolution Innovation Report: Did the pandemic burst the ‘big data’ bubble?

Whatever the question, insights – and not data – is the answer, says Carlos Cendra sales and marketing director at Mabrian

Whatever the question, insights – and not data – is the answer, says Carlos Cendra sales and marketing director at Travolution Innovation Report partner Mabrian.

‘Big data’ has revolutionised the way we live and operate in all our lives. From Amazon to Google, its impact has been positive and transformational.

Nonetheless we believe that the era of collecting the biggest amount of data possible is now well and truly dead. What will replace it? And is the pandemic to blame or was this always inevitable?

For some time now we at Mabrian have been telling our partners that ‘less is the new more’ in tourism nowadays. Put simply, big data has been drowning many tourism professionals and the last thing a drowning person needs is more water.

In that respect, the impact of the pandemic has been – just like in so many other areas of our life – to accelerate the inevitable.

In many respects we all lost sight of why we want data in the first place: to provide us with relevant information that helps us improve our lives and make our decisions more efficient.

Yes, just like everything else in life, data is all about quality and not quantity. And in the tourism sector that means actionable insights when looking at destination trends.

Perhaps the best analogy we’ve heard is to compare travel intelligence gathering and data analysis to the art of cooking. Wheat is the base ingredient of bread but alone it is almost impossible to eat. But once we grind and treat wheat, we get flour.

In tourism when valuable information is enriched with different global sources of data and cross-analyzed using the correct tools, then analysed and interpreted from a tourist management perspective, information can become ‘knowledge’. In other words, Travel Intelligence. Or, following the example of wheat and bread, become the sandwich.

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Returning to the topic of the impact of the pandemic, recent experience has driven home this point very hard to many. We have never before seen greater volatility and more rapid change in tourism trends. Sometimes in periods as short as just a few days!

In this respect, constant change has become the new normal. That means that only powerful tools powerful travel intelligence tools – combined with humans with deep tourism sector knowledge – are able turn such massive and rapidly changing data sets into meaningful information.

As an example of this we recently conducted an analysis of hotel prices in the major Mediterranean destinations. Common sense would dictate that less people travelling – as all the figures make clear – would lead to lower prices. Market forces, right?

But surprisingly prices for July and August this year in all the main destinations – Spain, Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Italy – were up everywhere when compared to 2019. Only Turkish three-star hotels saw a decline. Meanwhile Greek five-star hotels were up 47%!

What can explain this? Combining other data points with insights from professionals with many years of experience, we were able to help begin to explain the multiple factors that might have brough this about.

Firstly we discovered that as many hotels still remain closed or only open partially, evidently this has perhaps affected prices: less supply always increases prices if demand remains stable.

Equally the increase of demand and prices in the five star category can be partly explained by the fact that more wealthy travellers are not put off by the high costs of PCR tests and – being mostly older on average – are less worried by quarantining.

We’ve seen some evidence too that travellers are spending longer periods of time in the destination, thus pushing up the total demand. Hotels also might be increasing prices as their cost base has gone up due to COVID measures.

There’s also plenty of data to show that people are booking last minute and such bookings, as plenty of other data also shows, are always at a higher price.

Finally, there is of course one other factor to consider and that is that international travel — and by that we mean transatlantic trips or journeys to Asia — have been reduced to a small fraction of their former levels. Desire to travel though has remained high so perhaps some of those travellers are now instead travelling in Europe, creating demand that previously would never have been there.

In this respect, the analysis managed to turn data – the fact that prices are rising – into valuable insights for destinations: how, why and, ultimately, what to do to react.

Another example we’ve seen recently is around the current spike in ‘staycations’ in the UK. Brits booking more domestic holidays is not news. And in that respect the traditional Mediterranean destinations shouldn’t have anything to fear, right?

However, by cross-analysing multiple data sources – such as social media, accommodation reviews, flight capacity, and flight searches – we discovered that the British staycation trend might be more permanent than many would think.

Despite an appearance of moaning about it, overall the impression Brits are having of their domestic tourism experiences is very positive: Brits now have a much better impression of the range of tourist experiences available, up by five points in our Mabrian Tourist Product Index from a score of 73 to 78 (out of 100) between last summer and this.

When it comes to three- and five-star hotels, British domestic travellers are also enjoying their stays more this year too.  We also looked at perception of security and found that had improved too, as well as finding a stark increase in the overall level of tourist interest from locals on social media.

Maybe it is too early to tell yet, but a lot of destinations in Southern Europe need to respond quickly if they don’t want to risk losing market share for many years.

Which kind of brings us back full circle: all destinations now need to have much greater agility in how they approach market analysis.

The days of ‘trust your intuition’ and ‘tomorrow will be like today, but even better’ are long since gone but COVID has just made it ever clearer. Smart Destinations and companies know that change is the only constant and the name of the game is understanding, anticipating even, that change.

A quick analysis of July and August’s hotel prices for the top Mediterranean destinations shows substantial increases in prices. But what’s behind this? And how should destinations react?

An increase in UK domestic tourism is hardly ‘big data’ or even news: but if you’re a traditional sun and beach destination, then finding out that Brits are enjoying their ‘staycation’ more than expected could prove important (and worrying!) market insight.