Published on Friday, May 5, 2017

Digital personalisation - the next stage

James Blake, CEO at Hello Soda, believes the travel industry should be following entire digital footprints to effectively personalise the customer experience.

"Like many industries, the travel sector has evolved massively over the last decade. The digital era has brought with it a whole host of opportunities for travel companies and consumers alike. Companies operating in the sector can reach a global audience with relative ease, while consumers are offered the convenience of buying their perfect holiday from the comfort of their own homes.

These changes mean that high street bookings are slowly becoming a thing of the past, with 76% of UK residents booking online, as opposed to 19% which are made in person. With a massive variety of destinations, airlines, accommodation and different excursions on offer in one place, it is easy to see why. As well as this, more and more people are now suffering from the dreaded 'Facebook Envy' as friends and family post photos online in various beautiful locations around the world. The rise in social media usage has resulted in 18% of total internet users using some form of online media to research and plan their travel. This figure rises to 44% for 16-24 year olds who dominate many social media platforms.

With such an active population of online consumers, and countless competitors fighting for business, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. But where exceptional customer service and creating a bespoke holiday tailored to the customer's every need would make high street travel agents stand out, this level of personalisation is often lost in the digital world. It is therefore crucial that companies focus on retaining this personal touch with their online customers, since building real relationships with digital customers creates a significant competitive advantage.

Up to this point, travel companies have relied on simple data sets including age, location and gender of prospective customers to understand what they might be interested in. But as the digital world continues to expand, so does the potential for more effective and personalised marketing. Currently, 2.5 billion gigabytes of data are created every day, but only 0.5% of this is utilised. Taking advantage of the digital data boom can facilitate the provision of tailored and effective marketing.

Harnessing an individual's entire online footprint through big data analytics enables companies to gain a far deeper understanding of their online consumers. This can include numerous aspects of a person's life, ranging from their lifestyle choices to their likes, dislikes and significant life events. With consent from the user, these text analytics tools offer unique and relevant insights into each customer, meaning that communications and offers can be tailored to suit their personal preferences.

Current consumers want to book their holiday quickly and with as little hassle as possible. Google reports that in 2016, on average, holidaymakers took 55 minutes to make a booking, with 83% using less than three sources to book their trips. These figures highlight the importance of providing customers with relevant information in a timely manner. Personalisation is about analysing what specific customers are interested in, which types of places they like to visit, which products or bundles they're most likely to respond to and when and how it is best to engage with them for maximum effect. For example, sending someone who likes beach holidays an offer for a ski resort probably won't convert into a sale. But recognising when someone has got engaged and sending them personalised communications about luxury honeymoon packages might make them take notice. It's this level of detail that allows online travel companies to replicate the bespoke service provided by a face-to-face meeting with a travel agent, and therefore helps to build relationships and encourage brand loyalty.

The travel industry will continue to grow and adapt to consumer behaviour in the coming years, with the global online market set to reach $1 billion in 2022 as the world becomes more digitalised. Companies who cease to acknowledge the power of personalisation will only limit themselves. Customer loyalty is now fundamental to a company's success and being proactive in having a personal approach is vital in building strong, lasting customer relationships. Taking advantage of the data available online is the most effective way to bridge the gap between a travel company and its online consumers."


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