Guest Post: Travel’s bot problem

Guest Post: Travel’s bot problem

By Caley Iandiorio, Global Industry Marketing Manager, Commerce, at Akamai Technologies

Bots are a fact of life for travel companies, accounting for 30% or more of a travel site’s traffic. What better way to track and aggregate all of the changes to flights, schedules, prices, and hotel availability than with an automated program that scours the Internet for the most recent and relevant data.

Most of the time, travel companies don’t know what types of bots are on their site, or the impact of those bots on customer experience.

So what do bots have to do with travel? Simply put bots are automated traffic on a travel company’s site. They have many different purposes, both positive and negative.

Bots impact how customers find a site; the quality of the onsite experience; the accuracy of marketing data and the resulting analytics, competitive positioning and even, directly, the bottom line.

Bots play an important role in how travelers search and select travel and hotel accommodation. Search engines create bots to crawl websites and return information on a site’s content, helping shape how those websites are prioritised in search results.

It is necessary to ensure that search engine crawlers receive high performance to avoid jeopardising their rankings.

Travel companies also need to consider the changing role of search engines. Take Google flights as an example. In addition to connecting travelers to OTAs or provider sites, Google can now provide actual itinerary search, results and booking based on the data they are collecting, via bots, from travel providers and presenting it to travelers.

Travel companies also create bots or contracts with a third party service to crawl their own site in order to evaluate how effective their SEO efforts are. A related aspect of bot interaction involves partners who sell a travel company’s product or service through other channels (OTAs or traditional travel agents).

The purpose is legitimate and the benefit real (extending the reach and audience). Travel companies need to ensure that these bots get the information they need without negatively impacting on-site experience.

Once the travel company has brought the customer to their site, they must ensure a high quality experience so that the shopper can easily and quickly find the products or services they want.

However, with 30% or more traffic being bots, this means that regardless of the type or intention of the bot, too many operating too freely and site performance will degrade causing legitimate, human traffic to have a negative experience.

On-site experience is also driven by data. As more travelers expect personalised, concierge type experiences, travel companies need to leverage the data they are capturing on their sites. This enables them to deliver a more customised experience, leading to more, higher value sales.

However, a by-product of the proliferation of bot traffic is that marketing data, which drives key tactical and strategic decisions, is corrupted. Bots skew the data and misrepresent the true nature of customers, invalidating conclusions drawn from the data set.

Loyal customers are much sought after – however third parties can use bots to get between retailers and their customers, jeopardising that customer relationship.

For example, bots that scrape sites for information can often confuse and divert customers as they search for a travel solution. Travel companies also lose out on the ability to collect customer data, a growing concern as data quickly becomes the currency of travel.

There is also a direct correlation between bots and costs in the flight booking industry. If bots are on a site generating queries, whether for good or bad reasons, these requests are sent to the Global Distribution System which sends back the appropriate information. Every time the GDS communicates back to a request, the site generating the request is charged.

If 30% of traffic is bots and there are thousands if not hundreds-of-thousands of requests a day, that can quickly balloon the cost to a travel site for activities that are not driving any revenue.

When it comes to competition, on-site scraping is a big concern. As information is shared openly in order to provide a better customer experience, it also means that competitors can scrape sites to ensure their pricing and product offerings are comparable or better.

Manage, don’t mitigate

Bots absolutely provide a benefit to travel companies. They can help improve search results, improve SEO, and in the case of search engines turned booking agents (see Google flights), enable travel providers to get their brand in front of customers with fewer clicks.

Rather than simply blocking (bad) bots, travel companies need to understand what bots are on their site and what they are doing – this will allow them to initiate a strategy that elevates good bot behavior and manages bad bot behaviour.

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