The importance of data science in the travel industry

Like many others before it, the travel industry has been disrupted by the digital revolution. The age of expanding connectivity has launched the industry into an era of customer autonomy, opening doors for some but cutting many smaller travel agents out of the market. Companies such as Skyscanner and Booking.com make finding the best deal a quick and easy task. Involving many different stages of purchase, multiple touchpoints and hours of research, data has flooded into the travel market with enough force to blast out a new era of personalised offers and tailored services.

But how can the travel companies use this trail of data and choose the right path towards their established goals to stand out from the crowd and maintain their competitive edge? At Starcount we have recently conducted a study, analysing the passions and motivations of different groups of travel lovers. We have delved into various factors which influence their decision-making process to formulate a complete picture of the customers, show what they are really looking for and the importance of receiving the right message at the right time.

In the Airbnb audience, we can see a growing interest in work-related tech companies

Hotels vs Airbnb

Hotels, once peacefully undisturbed as the leaders of hospitality, have been prodded awake by progressive competitors with unique selling propositions such as Airbnb. Service differentiation and unique customer experience are key for companies to overcome the challenges of competition and stand out from the crowd. Unlocking the power of the data they hold can help them better understand their customers. For example, we looked into the differences in the audiences of Airbnb and Hilton, one of the largest hotel chains in the world and identified a few key differentiators in their passions, preferences and influences. 

The Hilton audience showed a tendency towards activities and products which give them pleasure and entertainment, with top passions including:

  • Shopping
  • Food & Drink
  • Alcohol
  • Weddings

The Airbnb audience, however, shows a greater affinity towards emerging global trends and personal development. The top passions were:

  • Business
  • Economics
  • Technology
  • Lifestyle Tips

In the Airbnb audience, we can see a growing interest in work-related tech companies such as WeWork and Slack. Combined with a rapidly growing interest in influencers such as Travis Kalanick and Elon Musk, and in media publications like Entrepreneur Magazine, we can see the growing importance of urban professionals in this audience, seeking the latest technology services and entrepreneur advice. Surprisingly, the younger audience of Airbnb seems more focused on practicality and career progression than the adventures of the older and significantly brand loyal Hilton audience. Tracking and analysing this valuable data can help companies to determine what offerings and services they have to bring to the table in the future.

Travel Agents vs Personal Research

‘By taking a closer look at the insight, the initial similarities turn to small but important differences’

Although suffering in the modern climate, travel agencies still hold great appeal for travellers. Many customers simply do not have time for the required research, trust the experts and are reassured by the direct contact travel agencies have with Hotels. On the other hand, personal research platforms such as Booking.com are going from strength to strength offering flexibility and a plethora of options to travellers. With a list of nearly 29 million addresses worldwide and a price comparison service, Booking.com allows people to be their own travel agent. But how does the audience differ to that of established travel titan Thomas Cook Group?

By analysing these 2 distinct audiences we identified very similar passions in the top 5 including:  

  • Shopping
  • Coupons & Saving Money
  • Food & Drink
  • Theme Parks

‘The Booking.com audience is primarily focused on travel brands and money-saving websites’

A closer look, however, reveals the Thomas Cook audience to be fans of family orientated activities and services as well as products like coffee & tea. Conversely, the audience of Booking.com has passions of live music & festivals and entertainment suggesting a more youthful and outgoing audience. Both show an affinity to brands, the Thomas Cook audience, however, shows an interest in premium brands such as Ernest Jones Jewellers and Interflora whereas the Booking.com audience is primarily focused on travel brands and money-saving websites. We can see then, that by taking a closer look at the insight, the initial similarities turn to small but important differences. By applying data science and graph theory techniques, marketers and strategists can uncover the guiding passions of their consumers with enhanced accuracy and understand the unique nature of each group.

Transforming the travel industry with data science.

So, as travellers across the globe continue to journey far and wide, leaving footprints of reservations and transportation bookings, the data list grows longer. This allows travel companies to understand their customers’ behaviours, preferences and patterns to formulate the right business strategy and differentiate their operations. When further enriched with social insight (the passions and motivations explained previously) the customer experience can be transformed into a true delight, delivering a unique service and cementing an industry position. Data is a key enabler and there is an opportunity for companies to adopt a retailing mindset to appeal to and target a wide spectrum of customers and continue to stay relevant in a rapidly developing industry. If you own the customer, you own the data. And if you own the data, you own the future.

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