Firms need strong data capabilities to compete in today’s travel sector, says Mike Rivis, chief technology officer at Sykes Holiday Cottages
The impact of big data is becoming ever-apparent across all industries and the travel sector is no different.
Customers create valuable data at every stage of their journey – from website searches to social engagement and loyalty initiatives – and data analytics has become an important component in businesses’ understanding of their market and customers.
However, the data revolution is just beginning and travel firms are only just scratching the surface with what data can do, which is especially true for the industry’s e-commerce operators.
As consumer behaviour and the way people use technology changes, travel firms will need to have strong data capabilities to deliver customer experience, increase personalisation and, ultimately, stay relevant.
In fact, a revolution as significant as the one in the original dot-com boom is underway and, in my view, it will be the undoing of any travel businesses that haven’t already begun creating an ocean of data within the next five years.
True personalisation is one of the key factors which big data analytics can offer. Data can help firms be more responsive to customers’ needs and provide products and services which better meet them.
At Sykes we use a recommendation engine to deliver personalised cottage suggestions via direct marketing, based on the customers’ past booking habits – including whether they took pets, how many people went on the holiday and if they prefer breaks by the coast or in the countryside.
Data science and its impact
There is a science and skill in turning data into meaningful insights, which can be used to optimise the user experience and increase business efficiency.
For example, to maximise conversion, our data science team have used data to develop a complex algorithm that determines which of our 13,500 properties display in customers’ search results.
Our sales data has also been used to model the features and characteristics of the best-selling properties on our books, to predict how well newly-acquired cottages will do. This then, in turn, allows us to offer a tailored service to our homeowner partners.
The team use a test and learn approach – identifying problems and opportunities, forming a hypothesis and testing this against what the available data shows. As a business, we plan to carry out over 1,000 tests to the website in 2019.
What the future holds
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to predict travel choices, personalise services and provide customer service, and will continue to transform the industry.
Organisations with big data capabilities already have an advantage, but those without data won’t be able to compete at all as AI and machine learning become even more prevalent in the sector.
Chatbots are currently dealing with routine customer service enquiries across a range of industries, using Natural Language Processing (NLP), but will soon be managing even more guest interactions. This includes making bookings, giving detail on local activities and recommending restaurants.
Machine learning will also be employed to further improve the customer experience and maximise bookings. Firms will use rich data to pinpoint preferences, create bespoke packages and target travellers – in the same way Netflix suggests TV programmes and films you may like, based on your what you’ve watched previously.
Over the next few years, big data will separate the wheat from the chaff and travel businesses really can’t afford to get left behind. Firms should invest in their data capabilities now to future-proof against what’s to come.