The Best Data Strategy for the Travel Industry

by Axel Schaefer

Posted on 12-15-2017

This is the first in a new series of con­ver­sa­tions between respect­ed blog­gers from a range of fields and experts from Adobe. These unique encoun­ters will offer insight into how end con­sumers feel about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, includ­ing how and when tar­get­ing is effec­tive, what makes for an appeal­ing cam­paign, and how mar­ket­ing affects whether these all-impor­tant influ­encers spread the word about spe­cif­ic prod­ucts and platforms.

Our fea­tured blog­ger for this quar­ter is Abi King. In 2007, after five and a half years as a hos­pi­tal doc­tor, Abi decid­ed to fol­low her dream of becom­ing a writer, and Inside the Trav­el Lab was born. This lux­u­ry trav­el blog is described as “one of the best trav­el blogs in the world” by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­eller and Lone­ly Plan­et. She’s an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and pho­tog­ra­ph­er whose work has appeared in Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­eller, Lone­ly Plan­et, the BBC, Red, CNN and more. Adobe’s Axel Schae­fer is an expe­ri­enced glob­al mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive with a con­sult­ing, agency and cor­po­rate back­ground, and a spe­cial inter­est in CRM, peo­ple man­age­ment and mul­ti-cul­tur­al work-experiences. Abi and Axel, who’s based in Ger­many, spoke by tele­phone ear­li­er this month.

Abi King

Abi: Hi Axel, thanks for mak­ing time for me today.

Axel: My plea­sure. It’s good to step away from the data and get back to basics—the peo­ple actu­al­ly behind the facts and fig­ures. Let’s jump in. What’s your first question?

Abi: I book a lot of flights, hotels, and train tick­ets. How much do these trav­el com­pa­nies know about me, and should I be wor­ried about that?

Axel: We’ve got some­thing in com­mon. I hope your trav­els are more relax­ing than mine, as I board a plane rough­ly every oth­er week, for work.

There are two ways of look­ing at this issue. One way is your cus­tomer history—whatever infor­ma­tion you share, they know. If you take part in a loy­al­ty pro­gram, for exam­ple, then they are get­ting much more insight into what you are doing, and also know that you are more open to shar­ing infor­ma­tion with them.

As trav­el is a big part of my job, I can return to com­pa­nies I reg­u­lar­ly engage with that use infor­ma­tion I give them as a loy­al cus­tomer tak­ing part in their pro­grammes. Or, if I don’t get the expe­ri­ence that I want, I may use some­thing, like an app, that will pro­vide it.

Abi: That might lead onto my sec­ond ques­tion, about how data insights can help improve con­sumers’ expe­ri­ence. But before we move on to that, are any trav­el com­pa­nies gath­er­ing data in less obvi­ous ways?

Axel: As soon as you land on a company’s web­site they have the chance to per­son­alise an expe­ri­ence for you by using the infor­ma­tion you’ve left, such as which flights you looked at, or which con­nec­tions, and which hotel. They may come back and offer you a spe­cial deal or tell you the price has dropped. If they know who you are they may do that proac­tive­ly by email. If they don’t know who you are they could still, based on a cook­ie you left on their web­site, wel­come you the next time you vis­it. As soon as you type in your des­ti­na­tion they could change the whole look of the site to dis­play back­grounds from your des­ti­na­tion, hotels, or sight­see­ing tours offered there.

Abi: Are there are any oth­er ways that data could be used to improve the con­sumer experience?

Axel: I always rec­om­mend that com­pa­nies look at their cus­tomers not only as data points, but as real peo­ple. I’m a busi­ness trav­eller, and at the same time I like fam­i­ly vaca­tions. It’s about under­stand­ing who I am beyond the fact that I’m fly­ing sev­en­ty times a year. If my data is shared with oth­er brands, the advan­tage to me, as a con­sumer, is that I will get more con­ve­nient and tar­get­ed offers because the data set is enriched. Of course, these are sen­si­tive and com­pli­cat­ed issues, but look­ing at cus­tomers as a whole cre­ates a bet­ter expe­ri­ence for them.

Abi: But what about the wow fac­tor? How do you think com­pa­nies can use cus­tomer data to inspire?

Axel: There’s always big val­ue in get­ting some­thing unex­pect­ed. You can do that by mak­ing a match using what you know about customers—such as the des­ti­na­tions they’ve been research­ing for months—and offer­ing them a great deal. Or, you can look at pre­dic­tive capa­bil­i­ties from a data angle, find­ing the next thing peo­ple may be inter­est­ed in expe­ri­enc­ing. What is the next trend, what cities are booming?

Abi: I think you’ve made a very good case for data’s use­ful­ness. Now, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I some­times notice that it can be a lit­tle bit creepy if you have looked at some­thing and then, weeks lat­er, see the same advert fol­low­ing you around. Do you think there is such thing as too much tar­get­ing? Where would you draw the line?

Axel: It is about find­ing the right fre­quen­cy and the right depth. You also need to think about mul­ti­ple step opt in or opt out. We need to help the cus­tomer define the cor­rect lev­el of per­son­al­i­sa­tion. As long as tar­get­ing adds val­ue to them, per­son­al­ly, peo­ple don’t feel that it’s creepy. When we don’t get any addi­tion­al ben­e­fit out of it, then we feel it’s creepy. It’s a waste of mon­ey for com­pa­nies, as well, because their audi­ence is no longer see­ing some­thing relevant.

We’ve done a lot of work with Heathrow Air­port recent­ly. Their app takes over from air­line apps, and holds your hand until you fly. It leads you through the air­port, and presents offers for cof­fee shops and duty-free. Heathrow has tak­en a proac­tive approach to help­ing peo­ple and adding val­ue to their expe­ri­ence. This is a good exam­ple of how, on the one hand, they’re col­lect­ing cus­tomer data, but on the oth­er hand, pro­vid­ing some­thing real­ly help­ful and valuable.

Abi: It would appeal to me, as a fre­quent trav­eller. Anoth­er thing I notice is a big gen­er­a­tional divide in terms of how hap­py we are shar­ing data. My par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion is quite ner­vous about enter­ing an email address, or bank­ing online, where­as my younger broth­er, who lives online, feels that there is no rea­son for pri­va­cy unless you have some­thing to hide. Do you think in the future we will share a lot more infor­ma­tion online? Or do you think there is going to be a back­lash about the amount peo­ple are sharing?

Axel: I think com­pa­nies will have to be very trans­par­ent about how they’re using our data. As you’re prob­a­bly aware, the ways of pro­tect­ing your data are get­ting stronger. I do think that there are clear signs on the hori­zon that peo­ple work­ing with cus­tomer data need to respect each indi­vid­ual cus­tomer, while also think­ing about how they can cre­ate addi­tion­al val­ue. The two things need to come togeth­er to main­tain a company’s sta­tus as a pre­ferred brand. Peo­ple will expect more from you than they did in the past.

From your per­spec­tive, Abi, are you more open to sug­ges­tions when they’re per­son­alised, or do you want to dig through things and find your own deal?

Abi: I think com­pa­nies need to be clever when they per­son­alise things, and not be in such a rush. If you’re book­ing a pack­age trip, then it includes every­thing apart from trans­fers. But if you’re putting togeth­er a trip your­self, most peo­ple do that in dif­fer­ent stages.

Axel: Is your tol­er­ance to per­son­al­i­sa­tion dif­fer­ent if you just land on a site, ver­sus vis­it­ing a com­pa­ny you’ve booked with before?

Abi: I think if you have a logged-in account or you’ve down­loaded an app, it’s prob­a­bly agreed in your head you’re giv­ing con­sent. You want it per­son­al and it’s prob­a­bly irri­tat­ing if it isn’t. Where­as, yes, if you’ve just been search­ing it can seem intrusive.

Axel: If I under­stand you cor­rect­ly, the more involved you are with a brand or a com­pa­ny the less you wor­ry about per­son­al­i­sa­tion or adver­tis­ing being an issue.

Abi: Yes.

Axel: How much are com­pa­nies lever­ag­ing the pow­er of blogs? How often or how deeply are you approached for that purpose?

Abi: Com­pa­nies approach us, or approach me, sev­er­al times a day, prob­a­bly sev­er­al times an hour. As pas­sion­ate as I am about trav­el­ling, some­times I dread the sight of my In-bas­ket, as the emails pile up. It’s part of the job, but I’d always rather be swim­ming with croc­o­diles or glid­ing over the desert in a hot air bal­loon than answer­ing emails. If you had a deal that offered a sig­nif­i­cant dis­count, like 50 per­cent off, I’d def­i­nite­ly use that on my social chan­nels, but I don’t have the kind of blog that runs offers on the site itself.

Axel: I have been with Adobe for 5 years. I’m part of the dig­i­tal prod­uct and indus­try mar­ket­ing team. We look at trends, at solu­tions, and at cus­tomers. We also come at it from a prod­uct per­spec­tive where we can be more pre­scrip­tive. Gen­er­al­ly, com­pa­nies need to act more care­ful­ly, be more rel­e­vant with their data and look at it from a holis­tic cus­tomer angle.

It’s been great talk­ing to you, Abi, and hear­ing about the ele­ments of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and data use that strike you as “creepy,” and those you’re find­ing use­ful. It’s valu­able insight to have.

Abi: And thank you, Axel. I’ve learned a lot today.

Topics: Digital Transformation, advertising, customer journey, customer satisfaction, data collection, personalisation, Travel, UK, UK Exclusive, Digital EMEA