Author: Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK

Here Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp, reflects on the potential of expansion of online personalisation in the travel sector and how this is leading to a new wave of challenges and opportunities for tourism as an industry.

The growth of online travel agents (OTAs) has been apparent for over two decades now. The giant of the industry, Expedia, was founded as a division of Microsoft way back in 1996, and using online services for travel is now ubiquitous with the industry.

Since their introduction in the mid-90’s OTAs have increasingly gained market share, currently capturing 39% of the US online digital booking market. Forecasts expect this trend to continue, reaching an estimated 41% market share in 2020, according to new research from Phocuswright.

However, just as Amazon didn’t kill off the bookstore, the growth of OTAs hasn’t replaced the in-store travel experience that companies such as Thomas Cook and TUI offer. The reality is that the typical travel agency of 15 or so years ago, which focused on point-to-point trips, is adapting, as Rebecca L. Weber travel industry writer for CNN realises, saying:

“As online bookings have grown, new breeds of agent have emerged that target luxury, business and niche travellers who value personal relationships and expertise over savings.”

Aside from using specialist agencies, many travellers are now turning to review and information sites, like TripAdvisor, to get more specific insights, but sometimes the sheer amount of user-generated-content can be overwhelming. Consumers are left confused by the choices available – for example, what should they focus on out of 200 different tourist recommendations when they only have a weekend?

In this digitally connected world, consumers are becoming more used to relying on personalised recommendations from trusted brands like Netflix and Amazon. The assumption now is that ‘you already know what I want, show me deals that match my preferences’…

Diane Dunigan, travel expert at Sabre, knows that people have high expectations:

“Travelers expect the same level of personalisation. By understanding what customers want– travel times, destinations, budget, air extras, etc. –  OTAs are best placed to be able to create personalised recommendations the customer will see as soon as they land on their site or mobile app.”

This use of data analytics, combined with insight into customer behaviour and preferences, added to a rich seam of user-generated reviews and photographs will allow OTAs to draw customers in with highly personalised insights.

Tech blogger Elena Ruiz recognises the value in this approach, saying:
“It’s no surprise that by personalising each stage of the customer life cycle, both B2C and B2B companies have seen increased engagement levels, higher recovery rates, greater initial conversion rates, higher average order value. When it comes to the customer lifecycle, almost every stat you can think of is improved with personalisation.”

Instead of swimming slowly through hundreds of TripAdvisor reviews, it should be possible for the travel companies to direct the customer straight to the most relevant ones.

There is no excuse for Travel companies not to embrace personalisation – according to online travel group Amadeus, 86% of travellers are positive towards personalised offers, and the marketers who personalise their customers’ web visits typically see a 19% uplift in sales.

It could truly be game changing if, as well as offering a better deal, travel companies could provide more personalised services by using Artificial Intelligence to explore every flight, hotel, and experience the customer has booked in the last decade!

So next time you think about personalisation make sure you’re thinking creatively. Talk to Webhelp to discover how to personalise content beyond email, and take your customers on a personal journey across your channels ending with a successful checkout.

If you want to talk about how a wave of personalisation could disrupt the travel industry and the implications for your CX contact. E:

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