It’s safe to say that technology has disrupted the travel industry. Travel agents are no longer siloed to bricks-and-mortar stores and international airports have a strong digital focus when engaging with travellers.
Advances in technology and high-speed internet allow travellers to book their own hotels and flights, research the best bars and restaurants to visit and even choose to stay in a stranger’s home rather than a hotel.
While the internet may have ‘killed’ the high-street travel agent, the industry’s swift migration to online booking has now created the ‘DIY traveller’ and the digitisation of the travel industry has given the customer more control and choice than ever before.
Much like the retail sector (eCommerce in particular), the travel industry has a wealth of relevant data to monitor consumer behaviour and tailor a unique and personalised customer experience.
The bookings process
Travel companies have become experts in using behavioural and booking data to create products and targeted promotions. The information gathered during the booking process enables companies to curate ultra-personalised emails to increase sales, manage customer expectations and improve customer retention rates.
Easyjet uses previous booking data in order to increase customer engagement. Personalised emails are created by using previous airport departure locations, cost of previous flights, holiday type and time of year a customer’s previously booked.
These personalised emails also contain clear ‘click-to-book’ call to actions allowing for easy booking with only a few steps in the booking process to complete a purchase.
Even after a customer has booked flights or hotel accommodation, travel companies still have a window of opportunity to build a rapport with their customers and keep them informed of any changes to their itineraries or disruptions to their travel plans.
Before customers check-in, Airbnb sends a series of automated emails with gentle reminders of check-in dates and times with engaging copy to encourage anticipation.
Similarly, Center Parcs sends a series of triggered emails up to 15 weeks before its customers arrive. As a company known for short, active family breaks in picturesque forest locations, the email series starts with providing arrival dates, itinerary details, and a holiday checklist. The email series then continues with content relating to suggested holiday activities and tourism advice.
These emails not only encourage excitement for the customer but provide Center Parcs with data regarding the customer’s personal interests to incentivise pre-booking in future marketing emails with relevant content to increase engagement.
Online reviews for goods and services increasingly influences customer purchasing decisions and these reviews will ultimately reward companies who deliver exceptional customer service.
According to a 2015 Custom Survey Research Engagement report, 79% of travellers read between six and twelve reviews across four to ten websites when making decisions on travel plans.
With the success of sites such a TripAdvisor, travel agents, airlines and hotel groups alike increasingly understanding the strong value proposition of customer reviews and have subsequently taken a number of steps to attract and display online reviews on their sites and in offline marketing materials.
Follow-up emails after a customer’s holiday with a feedback request is a common way to generate a steady flow of reviews. Streamlined review requests such a simple five-star rating and free form text field for additional comments encourage customer participation and allow companies to receive the right amount of useful data.
Partnering with third-party review services is also popular with many travel companies meaning, less work is needed to aggregate, collate and analyse the data.
After conducting a survey with its customers, Thomson quickly realised that reviews were the most important part of their customers’ decision-making process. They swiftly partnered with TripAdvisor to use independent customer reviews to communicate the quality of their product offering and improve the quality of their service.
Innovations in mobile technology have led companies in the travel industry to become pioneers in how they manage relationships with their customers. Travel companies are now focused on bringing attention to easier booking via any channel including mobile – putting the consumer back in the driving seat.
Companies such as Qantas, United Airlines, Skyscanner and Hotels.com all have slick apps designed to manage their flights and hotel bookings – booking flights, mobile check-in, managing reservations, airport maps and flight status updates are just a number of features that add value to the customer after purchase.
As confidence in mobile commerce increases, travel brands are now able to gain deeper insights into customer behaviour and the products they purchase.
Looking at mobile data through a single customer view allows travel companies to provide a seamless experience while marketing the right products based on individual behaviour – much like you would find from many eCommerce brands.
This fundamentally influences personalised emails and push notifications when customers are booking flights, enjoying duty-free shopping in the airports and even after their holiday is over. For example, a push notification regarding a previous summer holiday offering discounted flights to incentivise another holiday booking.
In addition, services such a bag tracking is also being implemented by airlines using customer’s unique flight data.
Delta Airlines recently implemented baggage tracking using unique passenger RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags which are placed on checked luggage.
Passengers can track their luggage in real-time and if delayed or lost, reassurance is provided as the app will update the user on the progress of their luggage at every loading and unloading station upon return.
The benefits of a data-focused approach to engaging with customers allow the travel industry to bring a myriad of information together to make informed decisions on customer behaviour to increase sales and drive loyalty.
As we see a steady stream of digital disruptors such as Airbnb shaping a new digital future for the travel industry, one theme continues to remains constant – ensuring customer loyalty always comes first.