Tour operators

Big Interview: Go beyond the booking experience with the appliance of data science

Posted by Lee Hayhurst on
Big Interview: Go beyond the booking experience with the appliance of data science

Intent Media founder Richard Harris explains how it has developed its partnerships in travel

Travel firms are focusing too much on booking and should provide relevant experiences on their websites to the vast majority of visitors who are not going to convert.

Richard Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Intent Media, says only by adopting data science techniques can travel firms work out how to serve all their online visitors better.

Intent has seen significant global growth since first expanding from its US homeland in 2015 when it opened its new European offices in London.

Harris said it has evolved into a Service as a Software [SaaS] platform powered by machine learning capabilities and data from the 450 digital travel properties that use its services.

“When we started out all of our models and data were geared around a single decision – do you want to show competitor ads on your website or turn them off?

“We have since, as the power of the platform has become more apparent, realised there is not just a black and white decision.

“There’s a whole range of experiences we can present based on that predictive power. That’s what our data science platform is geared to do.”

Harris said most major online brands are focussed in their desk top or mobile digital experiences on the user who is ready to book and to get them over the line.

However, he said: “Companies have honed the experience for users who are going to buy but when you look at industry conversion figures they rarely get into double digits.

“That means 90% plus of people involved in these digital experiences do not want to do what you want them to do.

“You’ve paid to get them there but they are essentially bouncers, so you can give them an experience that helps them on their way.

“By keeping on doing what you are doing you might drive conversion rates from 5% to 5.5%, but it’s how you address what everyone else is trying to accomplish.”

Intent Media’s traditional answer to this was to turn every website into a price comparison service by selectively displaying competitor deals to users deemed not ready to convert.

Although seemingly counterintuitive to many brands in such a competitive market, this approach took hold as firms understood the value of monetising unproductive traffic.

But Harris said Intent Media has responded to demands from its customers and added other strings to its bow beyond its original media solutions.

Conversion solutions provide customers with digital assets tailored to segmented audiences based on their likelihood to convert.

And data solutions is providing firms with the raw data about users on their websites so they can create their own experiences to serve them better.

“We have really developed our platform to where we are today which is that we are really becoming a data science company for the world’s leading online travel companies.

“In the past our work was around how do we improve profitability for our partners, it’s really now about how they are using us.

“We’re becoming a platform using machine learning to predict what each user wants in real time and, given that understanding, offer better experiences for users and maximise revenue and loyalty for partners.

“Data services is putting the power of real time user scoring into the hands of our partners. We give them a feed so they can do what they want with that predictive power.”

Intent talks about offering “segmented experiences” that are right for that particular user at a specific point in time.

Harris claims Intent sees double the revenues generated by “less sophisticated” rival systems in the market.

“It allows us to selectively serve ads with data and conversion solutions and that enables our partners to expand operations across the board and improve profitability,” he added.

Usability testing has shown that offering users a good experience at the top of the funnel makes them more likely to return later when they are ready to book, said Harris.

Intent Media recently announced it has started working with US OTA giant priceline.com and will has added 30 new partners this year on the back of a 65% increase in 2017.

These include Viajala in Latin America where Harris says it is seeing particular growth. The Middle East, Russia and India are all major growth markets, as well as Europe.

Scale enables Intent Media to improve prediction accuracy, and also to drive trust – an important commodity for firms using customer data following recent Facebook revelations.

Harris said the firm has always been “extremely conservative” in its use of data and committed to “high standards of privacy” working closely with industry bodies.

“We are global and have been active in multiple countries for a long time. We have not just held ourselves to US standards where sometimes there is less of a focus on regulation.”

Unlike Facebook, Harris said Intent Media does not deal in sensitive personal information, and data is not shared across its clients.

“We have watched what’s been happening with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica very carefully.

“We do not particularly like how Facebook had allowed information to trickle out but we are not in that business at all.”

Harris says he sees a future in which people will take more control in how their data us used and that will improve transparency and be a good thing in the long term.

“What we do is utility – trying to shorten the path for people, trying to get the information them want. That, I think, will always be a valuable thing for users.

“Transparency and people having insight into how their data is being used is a good thing. The more transparency the better and that will only lead to better user experiences.

“I worry more about these big platforms, data oligopolists, who are doing things that sound like they are in the interests of the user but it’s actually just consolidating the stranglehold around identity on the web.

“We have been working diligently to make sure we comply with all the regulations coming out in Europe. We feel people entrusted with data should always act responsibly and that’s what we do.

“However, there are a few bad actors out there and they can tarnish people’s view of data in general.”

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