Know Your Customers and Reach Them in the Moment — with the Help of AI

AI is a powerful tool to help T&H brands connect and deliver one-to-one personalization.

Travel is relaxing — said no traveler ever.

Whether it’s a personal vacation or business trip, travelers must navigate a variety of hurdles — like booking flights, reserving a hotel, renting a car, and planning activities at their destination — from the moment they arrange their trip until they return home. And if every part of this journey doesn’t go smoothly, a traveler’s already heightened level of stress can skyrocket.

But what if a traveler’s interactions with travel and hospitality (T&H) brands were as pleasant as the destination, simply because it was as though these companies knew exactly what their customers wanted, and when? What if they could personalize every part of the traveler’s experience to relieve some of this stress? That sounds like a vacation.

The T&H industry, like many others, has access to an enormous amount of customer data. And specific to T&H is the amount of second-party data that can be shared between non-competitive partners. As companies share their first-party data with trusted partners, this gives T&H brands the foundation necessary to gain a 360-degree view of their customers, better understand what they need, and identify and become intimate with the preferences and propensities of their customer segments. But extracting these insights isn’t possible on your own, and certainly not in time to make a difference. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) can help.

John Bates, director for Adobe Analytics says,

Real-time insights deliver experiences at the right time

Julie Hoffmann, industry strategy lead for T&H at Adobe, knows the benefit of real-time data insights from a previous marketing position at a Fortune 500 hotelier. Travel brands in hospitality want to entice customers to stay longer and ideally gain a larger share of wallet so that they maximize their perishable inventory — the rooms, dining and entertainment options. They want to gain the maximum dollars from customers during their average stay of 2.6 days.

Unfortunately, without an integrated platform to deliver on customer experience, it took up to four weeks to orchestrate a single campaign change. The campaign included static content that couldn’t be personalized, and it was not uncommon in the travel industry to have an employee physically update all of the digital screens at the resort with new imagery manually via a thumb drive. This defeats the purpose of real-time and automated delivery of experiences.

Julie shared,

To make the switch to a data-driven organization that can grow revenue through personalized offers, start by collecting and combining customer data. Then apply AI to help you gain intelligence on your customers. Once you understand who your customer segments are and what they are likely to add to their itinerary, you can apply that insight to every person staying at your location, while they are there. You’ll also know the best channel to use to reach each person — whether it’s digital signage, app messaging, in-room voice devices, or paper coupons.

“The ability to execute fully dynamic campaigns in real-time means that when there’s low utilization within a particular restaurant, and a show nearby is ending, you can re-direct traffic to that restaurant through personalized specials and promos,” Julie notated this is a key path to optimizing revenue management of venues on site.

AI makes personalization humanly possible

Marketers are increasingly turning to AI to deliver personalization. In a 2017 survey by Evergage, 96 percent of marketers surveyed said personalization advanced their ability to offer a better customer experience. Marketers also agree on the effectiveness of using AI to create personalized experiences. More than one-third of them said they use AI to deliver personalized web experiences and for content creation.

Delivering personalized experiences requires marketers to draw on vast amounts of data and make connections with that information to determine what messages are relevant, and to whom. In recent years, big data has exploded due to technological advances that increase the capacity for storing, gathering, and processing information.

Making sense of that constant stream of information is an inhuman task — literally. But AI can automatically sift through information such as customer data, location, demographics, device information, and website interactions to power intelligent algorithms that allow marketers to hyper-customize their messaging.

Customers crave personalization. In the Evergage survey, 88 percent of customers said they wanted interactions with brands to be tailored to their individual preferences. Kevin Lindsay, director for Adobe Target, says AI and machine learning can help marketers meet these demands.

“Marketers today are tasked with trying to understand what their customer wants — and that is pretty challenging,” Kevin says. “A few short years ago, we did that by looking at analytics data and by looking at different types of online behavior and digital interactions. But, today, AI and machine learning can help marketers react in a more real-time fashion. AI is taking into consideration factors that I certainly can’t on my own, even by looking at the analytics data and historical patterns. And I can’t possibly do that at scale.”

While marketers can use AI to optimize their campaigns, they also say AI should be used more effectively. Fifty-five percent of marketers still feel the industry isn’t getting personalization right. There’s more work to be done, and companies that tackle it sooner will have the advantage over their competition.

Marketers, especially in the T&H industry, have the opportunity to use AI in new ways that engage customers in real-time, before, during, and after their trip.

AI will help you find the message in the data

A traveler’s journey typically begins during the planning and inspiration stage of evaluating a destination or looking at flights or hotels. Their journey also has many checkpoints, even after their purchase is completed.

Some T&H brands are maximizing data to personalize every checkpoint along this journey. Marriott, for example, has looked at different data, such as what flight a customer usually took to a certain location, and what restaurant she always visited for coffee, so the hotel could serve the guest the type of coffee she likes even before she asks.

That’s just one way AI is used for personalization in T&H. Other applications include voice-activated personal assistants that provide an itinerary or weather update, customer service chatbots and AI agents that develop personalized content and recommendations, and algorithms that create personalized emails based on an individual’s onsite behavior. Marketers also can use AI for social listening and to identify trending conversations online and on social media platforms, enabling them to engage customers almost instantly with relevant messaging.

With big data comes big responsibility

AI also can help brands better target certain audience segments, specifically travel-inclined millennials. An American Express study showed that 83 percent of millennial trip seekers would allow travel brands to track their digital behavior to have a more personalized experience.

But even as consumers demand more personalization, brands must balance these requirements with protecting customer data and using it in a way that isn’t intrusive. Kevin says that although AI relies on data-hungry algorithms to do its job, it can help marketers deliver personalized experiences without sacrificing consumer privacy.

“There are things you can do that really look like one-to-one personalization once you get down to a very discrete level,” he says. “But we don’t have to know who the individual is. We can stitch together a lot of really interesting things to deliver one-to-one personalization by just understanding what the motivations are, and recognizing the kinds of behavior that contribute to it.”

John agrees, saying the key for brands will be building consumers’ trust and using data to offer them value and convenience.

“We’re helping businesses become more experience-led, but it needs to be on the consumer’s terms,” John says**.** “They need to be able to feel that level of control regarding the information and data that’s being collected about them and how it’s being used**.**”

“If we can shift that control back to the consumer and put the proper incentives in place for them to trust us and share more information back because they know it’ll ultimately lead to a better consumer experience for them — to me that’s the holy grail.”

Machines augment, not replace, a human touch

AI-driven personalization is important not only because consumers want it, but because it increases the ROI of marketing campaigns. Customers must sift through so much information that they can face a paradox of choice and delay or avoid making a decision to buy. However, AI can help by understanding and then providing only the best recommendations for each customer, thereby giving consumers the confidence to move to action quicker and speed the time to booking.

Research shows that personalized recommendations can increase conversions 353 percent. Sixty-three percent of marketers also say AI increased their conversion rates, while 61 percent had improved customer experience, and 57 percent saw increased visitor engagement because of the technology. Julie said, “DER Tourstik Group, the third largest European travel company, operating a network of travel organizations across 14 countries, improved conversion rates by 270% by implementing recommendations. They were able to keep visitors on a website 20% longer by testing and optimizing the digital experience.

But as brands leverage AI to move closer to one-to-one personalization, they also shouldn’t forget about the human touch consumers expect when they interact with a company. And in T&H, these expectations are really front-and-center for consumers.

However, AI can help here, too. Kevin says AI is meant to augment human intelligence — not replace it. For travelers, that means their interactions with a brand won’t entirely be handled by machines, but it will be the machines that can tailor interactions to their individual preferences.

“The key to any kind of successful human-to-human experience is having empathy, which really means putting yourself in the shoes of the other person,” Kevin says. “We all try to understand what our customer is going through, but it’s difficult to do that today. This is an area where

And once T&H brands achieve this level of personalization with the help of AI, the extra stress travelers feel when their trip doesn’t go as planned should be a very distant memory. And wouldn’t that really feel like a vacation?

Read more in our blog series on creating a destination experience or learn about Adobe’s solutions for Travel and Hospitality here.