TTE 2017: ‘OTAs must personalise holiday search in real-time’

TTE 2017: ‘OTAs must personalise holiday search in real-time’

Online travel agents need to personalise their websites to customers in real-time if they are to increase traditionally low conversion rates, big data analysts bd4travel say.

In a tech huddle at Travel Technology Europe, Jackie Groves, vice president of sales, said OTAs and travel agents looking to improve their website’s sales performance needed to use programmes which track browsers’ behaviour as it happens and software that changes what they see in response to that.

“We look at anonymous users,” she told the group. “It’s vital to understand what your customers want. That’s why we are focussed on what users are doing in the moment, rather than in the past.”

Groves said bd4travel has seen 3-7% improvements in the conversion rates of some companies it has worked with, while search results have been up as much as 10-13%.

She explained that travel is unlike other industries, such as retail, in that shopping habits are not obvious. This, Groves added, was down to the low number of purchases and that people often want very different experiences to what they had last time they booked.

“Using data from previous purchases might be completely off course as you might be recommending a summer holiday when this time they’re in the market for a ski holiday,” said Groves, who added that she still gets multiple recommendations for holidays to Leeds because she booked a room for a business meeting their once.

She added that many shoppers looking for holidays don’t want to give away their personal details lightly, to avoid marketing emails, so working with anonymous data was especially key in travel.

Delegates in the huddle, many representing smaller OTAs, said their firms’ current personalisation strategies included targeted emails – for which personal details are essential.

Although she would not reveal how the artificial intelligence technology used by bd4travel works, Groves said it uses predictive analytics based on billions of lines of data to find out what people searching for certain keywords actually booked.

It can knock down thousands of search results into a smaller, more relevant sample “in milliseconds”, Grove claimed.

Using this information, she said the technology can make accurate predictions of what customers are looking for, or suggestions of similar holidays they might consider – as they are looking.

Even if they don’t book, she said giving them a good search experience will increase the chances of them coming back.

“You have to know what stage of their booking journey they are at,” she added. “At the beginning you might want to inspire them, but further down the booking process you don’t want to distract them – especially if they are about to book.”

And when asked about the “creepy factor” of marketing – when companies appear to know too much about a customer, such as exactly what they have been looking at – she suggested careful wording such as “you may like” rather than “you selected this”.

“It’s about earning trust,” said Groves. “Making sure you make them feel at home in your company whether they are a young single traveller or a family.

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