Take tourism. Automation and digitization not only disrupted the industry’s established systems requiring an overhaul of the prevailing business model, but it also brought to life a different kind of traveller. Businesses wishing to stay competitive have to know how to relate to this new customer. The good news is the very same forces that disrupted the old system include the tools to succeed in the new world of tourism marketing.
Travel and the Internet
In the past, travellers were largely passive recipients of information and itineraries provided by their agents. The Internet ushered in unparalleled transparency, allowing travellers to research, compare, plan, and book all from their own browser. When travel sites and apps composed broadly of user data appeared (think TripAdviser or Yelp) the consumer received the tools to leave feedback and reviews. Quickly, travel services realized the power of their online reputation. The rise of services in the collaborative economy like AirBnB and Uber further pushed the boundaries of the traditional business model. Finally, in part driven by millennials, mobile browsing on smart phones has drastically increased on a global scale, including in developing regions. Added portability and a literal tracking device promise real-time communications between company and customer, and the ability to tie actions to specific locations.
As a result of these changes, a new type of traveller—independent, engaged, and informed—has emerged. Today’s travellers expect more from their suppliers, and it’s up to tourism companies to provide it. Luckily, this same technology serves companies, starting with big data.
What’s big data?
Entire careers are spent answering this very question but at its simplest, big data refers to the enormous volumes of data generated around business every day. To protect user anonymity—and to handle such large amounts of information—big data is sampled from large groups, aggregated, and anonymized.
In terms of the tourism industry, this can include information about where a traveller is from, where they visit, and how long they stay. It may also include their browser and purchase history, and any comments or feedback they leave either on a company’s website or on apps with user-generated data.
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Building a better tourist experience
There are numerous facets of the tourist industry and just as many ways to apply newer technologies to their implementation. In looking at the customer experience, it’s useful to examine two separate segments. Let’s call them delivery and response. From researching fares to buying tickets to planning itineraries to the on-the-ground events, delivery includes everything that happens as part of the traveller’s immediate experience.
Response has to do with customer communications and monitoring and managing customer feedback. These are totally different business areas but each is crucial to a company’s success.
Let’s imagine a traveller. She’s college-educated, from England, and a millennial. She’s got a smart phone and, after seeing an online ad for weekend getaways, she’s just booked tickets with three other friends to Tenerife in Spain. Behind the scenes, the travel company may have segmented out travellers like our example person for an online offer—and her experience once on the road will be similarly curated. She and her friends might stroll the beachfront, for example, triggering her phone to send her an offer for drinks at a local restaurant. Unhappy with the pool at their hotel, they may choose to move, using customer reviews in a travel app to decide their next accommodations.
You get the idea—but notice the shift. Up to this point, our travellers have enjoyed proactivity from the apps and companies they’ve used, but now they want to leave a review for the hotel. This is where corporate response comes in. In the past, customer satisfaction was measured manually through polls or follow-up surveys. Even with the advent of commenting, it was time-consuming and difficult to provide appropriate and fulsome attention. Now, though, with sentiment analysis which uses AI to glean deeper and more meaningful information from big data, companies can monitor their online reputations, effectively respond to customer feedback, and make top-level changes as required. This technology effectively closes the loop.
In the past two decades, the travel industry has been turned inside out, and some businesses have struggled to adapt. By harnessing the power of big data, companies will get to know their customers better. In an ever-changing marketplace, this is the information they need to make the best strategic business decisions.