Will AI become the default for predicting tourism behaviour?

When it comes to using technology for growth in the Travel and Tourism industry, there’s no doubt data now has the strongest role to play.

Knowing all you can about your existing and potential customers allows a company to target effectively to sell a brand-new holiday or up-sell extras such as excursions, drinks packages or luxury upgrades. But data can also be used to take this a few steps on, identifying from a range of different personal puzzle pieces their likes, dislikes and holiday habits to show where a client may enjoy going next; instead of re-selling them the same holiday year after year.

For destinations, this idea is also crucial. Dan Peltier wrote on Skift how big data can play a part in encouraging visits, tracking the ways in which people spend their time while understanding how tourists engage with a city so a location can adapt to future demands.

The rise of the AI-influenced traveler

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) is clearly one route. Leading travel organisations already use it and the industry’s future success depends on it. Kayak, Expedia and Booking.com use AI chatbots to communicate with customers and deal with their queries fast and efficiently. Similarly mobile-first disruptor www.lola.com blends technology and people using AI for recommendations and to support bookings. AI and automation increases the personalised experience for travelers at a lower cost point than human inputs, like in a call centre where it speeds up customer query resolution. Human travel advisors aren’t a thing of the past just yet though given the consumers’ need and want for such interactions are still there.

We know many in the travel industry such as Hilton and Visit Orlando are already delving deep into AI, while big names such as London’s The Dorchester are extrapolating the smallest amount of data from customers to create targeted, personalised experiences fast. There is already a wealth of data to hand across T&T. But it exists in silos, of airlines, hotels, tour operators, bars, restaurants and attractions. That is a problem that stunts industry growth. Data must be shared, cross-referenced, mined and honed to build a true 360-degree picture of each individual traveler.

Even within a T&T business, data silos make life difficult, for example, a marketing team not sharing its data with finance, operations or concierge to see what it says about a customer in a truly holistic way.


The challenge of data privacy

Most people are rightly concerned about who we share our personal data with, and how much we share. But when the reasons are explained properly around enhancing their experience, they will see the benefits. The arrival of GDPR legislation in 2018, T&T needs to demonstrate the personal data collected is secure. It is a real opportunity to change the narrative and encourage customers to opt-in to different levels of personal data collection by showing the benefits each brings. Knowing more about them enables faster booking, as preferences can be saved, while AI can throw up only relevant options that the data suggests will meet a specific traveler's requirements.

Frequent flier programs across alliance partners do this, allowing travelers to take advantage of personalised services across multiple airlines, even if they only hold their account with one directly. This seamless travel experience makes it easy to book a flight with an airline who then has hotel and car hire partners. However, a stringent data strategy is key to begin with. Data analytics are now a critical part of any business, in particular ones where you have multiple data sources. Tour operators need strategic and analytical competency internally or from a trusted partner to ensure all data sets provide tangible value when analysed.

Security and the adherence to different and often complex data laws around the world is also critical and GDPR brings new stringent rules to adhere to, explaining how and why you are collecting a customer’s data and for what specific purpose.


The utopian data strategy

A clever data strategy means better customer insight, competitive advantage by being able to align offers quickly to specific customers and improved business agility by having greater foresight into market trends and macro factors. All lead to customer retention and increased opportunities for new business.

It is still a voyage into the unknown for many within T&T meaning they will need to partner with a company they trust or recruit their own in-house resources. Data breaches make headlines but the fear of this happening should not be allowed to prohibit growth. The fallout could be catastrophic in such a competitive marketplace but the likelihood of one happening when using a trusted partner is low. T&T also has one major positive to remember; the cost of obtaining initial data sets is zero. It already exists in so many forms, from cookies on websites visited to social media posts along with previous bookings made and web enquiries started but not converted on.

Analytic tools can quickly and automatically retrieve this insight and implement it in a joined-up strategy taking data from all over the business to create a full 360-degree view of the front-end customer journey as well as underlying operations. Historical data on ticket sales can also be matched with Tweets and hashtags to see what might have influenced them or to boost renewed interest. A rise in bookings after a David Attenborough documentary, increased enquiries for sunny destinations when social media moans about the rain or changes in the political climate causing different sentiments towards spending or borrowing can all be identified as factors to provide stronger insight and returns.

Physical and logical security are of the upmost importance to all of this, utilising the latest IPS/IDS technologies and offering greater levels of education in the safest ways of providing and using data. At CenturyLink, we have years of experience implementing and managing highly secure environments whether that is on-premise, private or public cloud (CenturyLink, AWS, Azure, GCP) solutions.

For the travelers of tomorrow, data will come to shape their experiences. T&T companies who fail to grasp that may soon be forced to signal their own departure from their industry forever.

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