By Boyan Manev, director of business development and product marketing at Vayant Travel Technologies
Like Maverick from 80s classic Top Gun, today’s flight shoppers have a strong sense of entitlement when it comes to the choices they make.
They think they can do it all, fly harder and faster, keep everyone guessing till the last minute, and, at risk of pushing the analogy too far, get the girl, or in other words the best price.
Also, like Maverick, today’s demanding customers always want more.
Keeping them happy – across every connected platform – makes bigger and bigger demands on travel providers. Speed and accuracy have always been the key to putting smiles on shoppers’ faces but technology has not always been up to the job.
The online travel shopping experience is, only now, evolving into something that truly merits the term ‘inspirational’.
Fare search has had to become more ‘human-shaped’, with map and affinity-based searches for example giving shoppers increased choice and flexibility to keep pace with expectations.
Airlines – perhaps because they are in the habit of thinking about end-to-end customer experiences – have been at the forefront of this shift in the shopping experience.
Just a few weeks ago, for example, Emirates launched Inspire Me to give its online shoppers new ways to search for flights, based on what kind of holiday there were looking for.
Dynamic packaging is another leap forward for the customer experience.
Talked about for over a decade, today dynamic packaging is a reality and means travel sellers can make it easy for customers to tailor-make their perfect holiday.
More and more, travel sellers are taking advantage of new platforms to promote their offers.
But these new possibilities to excite and delight online shoppers come with a cost: human-shaped shopping is extremely data-greedy.
Truly dynamic shopping demands lots of data, fast. And using traditional technology translates into lots of hits on the GDS, which can quickly drive up cost to prohibitive levels.
Even with traditional fares caching – a technology designed to reduce contact with the host – there can still be unproductive hits on the GDS.
But more damagingly, in terms of the shopping experience, traditional caching could mean poor accuracy, with shoppers frustrated to find that the fare they wanted to buy was already out of date.
Fewer than 50% of fares could be available to book.
At the front-end customers want a seamless service that gives them choice and flexibility. But at the back-end the traditional architecture struggles to keep up with the need for speed and accuracy.
Clearly a whole new approach is needed: one that enables travel sellers to stay a step ahead, and build their offering around the needs of their customers rather than the requirements of IT systems.
The key thing is to re-imagine what search would look like if you built it from scratch and designed it around customers rather than IT systems.
With second generation caching – for example Vayant Pricing Cache – the entire architecture and logic of search has been re-engineered to deliver speed and accuracy (typically in the range of 80% plus).
And this speed and accuracy is delivering new possibilities for human-shaped shopping.
Swiss tour operator Hotelplan is using pricing cache to bring the choice and flexibility of dynamic packaging to its customers.
And Lufthansa has just built a custom-made second generation cache to push its fares to a number of German tour operators, who use the data in their dynamic packaging solutions.
Beyond dynamic packaging, speed and accuracy is giving travel sellers the confidence to exploit new channels, like email and social media, to promote their offers.
It means more ways to reach out to customers and inspire them with fares that are relevant and up to date.
Good service has always been about speed and accuracy. But, in the realm of online shopping, technology lagged behind travel sellers’ ambitions.
Now that the industry is re-thinking the fundamentals of search and shopping technology, and delivering solutions that meet the need for speed and accuracy, travel sellers can reach for the skies.