Travel agents can pair new technologies with human instinct to boost sales, industry experts have said at Eyefortravel.
A panel of travel technology experts spoke at a seminar hosted by Travolution’s Lee Hayhurst on how technology can work alongside humans to forecast what type of holidays customers may want and when to market to them.
Big data, they concluded, could make a huge difference to conversions if harnessed in the right way.
David Jones, director at travel-focused software and services specialist Atcore, said: “The impact of data has already been felt, but this is going to increase exponentially. The big question for tour operators is whether to invest in services or software, or go and train up some of my staff so they can learn more about using analytics correctly. OR go out and get a young PhD who really gives a leap forward in terms of capability?”
He compared the rise of artificial intelligence in taking on chess grandmasters, and often beating them, as a sign than technology has now been proven capable of making decisions as well as, if not better than, humans.
“We are now going to have is technology making decisions like should I put more flights on to Greece or Spain this year.
“In chess, it isn’t actually the best software or the best people, it’s the coming together of the technology and the individuals that gives the edge.”
Andy Owen Jones, co-founder of BD4Travel, said the companies that use data best are the ones with data scientists on their side. “It’s the interaction with the data that gives you really interesting insights,” he said.
“However,” he added. “The trend suggests that over time the algorithms will get better than the combination of the people and the algorithms. All disruptive innovation starts with poor quality and gets better. We see the algorithms start off and get better – the rate of change suggests that in three or four years’ time we will be in a different order of magnitude of change.
“It relies on the speed of processing the algorithms and the quantity of data. Both are growing at a substantial rate.”
He said it was more difficult for high street travel agent shops, and hotels, to capture data to do the same analysis that the online travel agents can.
“Online players can see everything,” Owen Jones said. “Whereas when someone comes into a shop and flicks through a brochure and leaves, the data is gone. How can you capture that?
“They’ve got booking technology but it needs to move to ‘what is going on technology’. That’s where the interest lies because booking technology might be based on ten bookings a week in a travel shop. You can’t do anything with that data. You might have 100,000 interactions in a week, how do you capture that data.”
Atcore director David Jones said he’s noticed that the focus falls on profit.
“If you’re selling a tour and you’re putting a £10,000pp price tag on that you can make a very good margin compared to a charter based holiday to Majorca.” So he said that technology that will help those sorts of specialist agents would be software that automates back office functions so that it frees up more employee time to sell the product.
But Scott Leslie, international marketing manager at Traveltek, said agents can use technology to give customers a better deal.
“When someone comes in the shop they are looking for, say a ten-day cruise to Miami. An agent might ask them for dates but the technology shows them that if they can be flexible with dates it can get them a fantastic rate.
“Now, they can do that all through one system. Beforehand, we would have to speak to all of them [airlines, hotels, cruise lines, ground transportation providers] through all the different systems. It’s so easy these days.
“Personalisation is not new. As a travel agent you have this expertise, this knowledge that’s ingrained for ten-15 years. You can offer this to a customer almost subconsciously. You know that John Smith doesn’t like ski, he likes cruises, his wife likes the Caribbean. Using technology you can safe data in the system so that two years later you can tell them about a cruise they went on with new features. Already you’ve given them a personalised holiday without having to think about it.”
David Jones said you can’t talk about personalisation without mentioning the “elephants in the room” of Google and Facebook.
“That data is significant in the context of what Mrs Miggins has done with you in the past. If you can link that to what Mrs Miggins is doing on her Facebook page, and all the other things she’s got online, we will see data that we own being married to data outside.”
He said machines could predict that a customer may like ski holidays by working out that there’s snow in her Instagram pictures, for example.
“It might be you’re a company that only sells summer sun products to Mrs Miggins. Suddenly, you discover that she’s spending loads of time skiing.”