Comment: Personalisation is the industry’s superpower

Offering unique experiences will lead to a more sustainable sector and bring back the joy of travel, says Journey Mentor’ chairman Gordon Hague

Remember when flying seemed luxurious? You’d rock up at the airport, well-dressed and happy to be there. You expected (and generally received) good service, decent food and a smooth passage.

Nowadays, travel seems defined by delays and serpentine queues. Shoes off. Personal effects in clear plastic bag. The inner groan as you pack. It’s not even convenient let alone fun.

A few things happened. De-regulation democratised travel. Not a bad thing but maintaining standards was going to be tricky, pre-digital. Then came 9/11. Finally, the pandemic.

Personalisation is the travel industry’s not-so-secret superpower. It can’t fix all the above. It can make travel convenient, less homogenised and better able to respond to demand.

Personalisation today far exceeds the [add/delete name] mail-shot or knowing a customer’s food allergies. It’s about building sustainable relationships, re-defining travel and creating ideal experiences. Ultimately, it’s all about client retention.

Research suggests the average traveller spends around 40 hours researching a trip. Making travel more convenient, bespoke and less time-consuming makes it more fun.

“In a world saturated with Instagrammable tourist traps…you want to ditch the crowds and generic experiences for journeys crafted around your unique desires,” says Ananya Bhattacharya in India Today.

Today’s travellers are seeking a path less trodden. Demand is shifting towards more authentic and individualised experiences – such as wellness and eco-friendly breaks, says Forbes.

Personalisation is the power to serve better and make travel joyful once again. In turn, the whole industry will be more sustainable. Personalisation can showcase local suppliers as well as the usual suspects, benefiting countries and the environment with small-scale tourism.

Always remember data belongs to the customer

On the downside, the power personalisation gives could also be a temptation to focus on short-termism and poor practices over sustainability.

First off, travel providers need to move away from paradigms (like those of legacy revenue management) that focus exclusively on ‘bums on seats’ when determining offers.

In future, successful suppliers will be able to identify the best passengers, not necessarily the most frequent, say, but the least price sensitive.

Above all, personalisation should put the individual customer centre stage.

“… travel companies that prioritize the CX (customer experience) can gain loyalty, build resilience and future-proof their businesses,” as a recent McKinsey/Skift Research study says.

To do this requires collecting huge amounts of data, everything from stated preferences to shopping habits. Data helps build a ‘digital fingerprint’ to better match services with travellers.

Personalisation will soon enable the industry to go even further in anticipating a customer’s wants. See offer, pick offer, book offer from a smart phone or tablet while in transit, for example. New innovations are around the corner.

So now is a good time for providers to decide how they treat all this new data.

Data is valuable. A glance at the privacy notices of some online travel sites reveals potential for data to reach third parties, by accident or sale. Being bombarded by the resultant unsolicited ads can irritate customers at best, at worst undermine trust.

I believe providers must consciously decide data belongs to the customer and exists only to better serve that customer. The trust fostered will pay dividends in sustainable relationships and repeat business.

Likewise, the holy grail of determining an individual’s price elasticity from their data is likely to be available in the not-too-distant future.

The ability to know the difference any given traveller is willing to pay for a deal or a slightly or significantly better deal, would be an amazing tool for providers to further refine and personalise.

On the dark side, consider – if you know somebody’s personal elasticity, why not raise the price anyway just to make a bigger profit?

Give the customer more and reap the rewards

Personalisation can revolutionise customer service and re-vitalise the travel industry.

To optimise the benefits, customers should be able to choose from the widest range of preferences, across all, including being able to weight their preferences.

Also, most travel sites currently only show the lowest price. But the lowest price may not elicit the best outcome. Combining the lowest price with the highest FIT score (based on a traveller’s weighted preferences) will produce results closer to ideal.

Other ways of ensuring personalisation is meaningful include flexibility over what a customer is required to input. On many sites, a destination is mandatory. But available technology already enables it to be done differently.

Why not allow a customer to not specify a destination? For some customers unsure exactly what they want, this kind of browsing can be great. It will more likely produce outcomes perfect for that customer.

The above are just a few examples of the potential if approached the right way.

Personalisation has one reason – better results for the customer. But by respecting this, the industry itself will be more sustainable, profitable and exciting.

In the near future, thanks to personalisation, a traveller might simply be able to input ‘The World – good shopping, good beaches, good cricket’ and find their perfect trip. That’s exciting.

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