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Big Data: Revolutionising the travel biz

Enabling businesses to take immediate decisions as per the changing customer demand and seek out new revenue opportunities. Various industry leaders including; Todd Arthur, Vice President, Sabre; Sandeep Dwivedi, Chief Operating Officer, InterGlobe Technology Quotient; Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions; Priyanka Chaurasiya - Head of Analytics, Cleartrip spoke to T3 magazine exclusively on how the business dynamics are changing, future and challenges. Excerpt:


Q]  There is a current emphasis on big data. How is the travel industry approaching data?

Todd Arthur (TA): More than ever, data is central to the travel industry. It is what enables personalising and enhancing an individual traveller’s journey, while also having the ability to compellingly demonstrate the economic value that a company, be it an airline, agency or hotel, delivers to their clients.

Sandeep Dwivedi (SD): Apart from multitudes of online travel portals, many mobile apps are there to provide real-time travel plans, suggestions regarding hotels, GPS tracking anywhere, booking tickets, comparing prices for the travellers and collect their feedback regarding a travel. Henceforth the introduction of disruptive technology aggregators and their capabilities to ease and deliver customized solutions to the travel provider. Analysing ‘big data’ – the ability to evaluate lots of data points – and artificial intelligence (AI), where machines replace brain power, could be making a difference in predicting a lot more travel behaviour, using algorithms to do more listening, talking and even thinking. In fact, many international airports have increased their food and retail sales through the use of AI and ‘big data’ created experiences that are more seamless and convenient, thanks to a network of IoT devices, cloud-based biometrics and risk-based screening.

Rakshit Desai (RD): Modern-day and Digi-smart travellers leave long trails of data while making travel bookings such as research and planning (including price comparison), booking, cancellation and feedback. This data consists of critical information on consumer behaviour. Big Data therefore offers huge opportunity to assist in analysing the data and offer insights that helps provide the much-needed competitive advantage through improved product and service offerings, processes, experiences, pricing, marketing and other internal and external customer experiences. With the help of Big Data Analytics, Travel Industry is able to manage and analyse vast amount of data and predict and improve the future of travel.

Priyanka Chaurasiya (PC): Travel industry in general has been at the forefront of experimenting with new things. In the recent years, travel has dramatically caught up with the adoption of big data as well, and you see far more travel companies investing in data strategy& data-driven solutions. With big data there is so much to explore that it really provides you the opportunity to do new things & get you that ‘edge’ over competition.


Q] What relevance does big data hold in the travel and hotel industry?

TA: Data is what helps to cater to increasing consumer expectations. Agents, airlines, hoteliers and travel managers today have access to a treasure trove of traveller information — historical booking data, traveller profile information, reservation browsing patterns, and much more. Collectively, this data paints a detailed picture about who a traveller is and what they care about, both of which make it much easier to craft personalized offers for travellers.

SD: Using Big Data and Machine Learning, they can build recommendation engines that can help them personalise offers on products from their inventory and from their partners’ catalogues. The internet of things (IoT) is already helping hotels, airlines, and travel companies streamline their operations by connecting smart devices, systems, and processes. This is probably the biggest opportunity travel companies can achieve from big data analysis.

RD: Big Data has been transforming many Industries and it has also started to play a vital role in the Travel and hospitality Industry. Most companies in this domain are rapidly adopting data analytics, tools and services to stay ahead of their competition. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of these companies have invested in a dedicated research and analysis team. With the help of growing storage capacities, faster processors and powerful data mining and analytics tools, it is becoming easier to make sense of data. Effective use of Big Data analytics can help the Travel and Hospitality Industry to better strategise and bring about higher degree of personalisation.

PC: The size of big data makes it extremely helpful in identifying hidden patterns and the granularity makes it very valuable in customisation & personalisation. In the context of travel & tourism industry as well, big data provides a great opportunity to be able to decode the real requirements, needs & intent of customers at a very granular level and provide them with far more relevant choices at relevant times. In short, big data is what can really enable service providers to go beyond the ‘generic’.


Q] How can the industry use data analytics to serve customer better?

TA: The travel industry needs operational models that allow for greater adaptability and that cater to a new generation of connected customers who expect experiences. The good news is that in all they do, consumers leave a digital footprint as they go about searching and booking their accommodation – digital breadcrumbs, so to speak. With the use of innovative technology solutions, these traces can now be analysed to help generate offers that respond to guest’s unique priorities through personalization, convenience, immediacy, and differentiation.

SD: It is one of the key factors driving the evolution of the travel industry. The travel industry handles an enormous quantity of data around. Thus, the ever generated data from different sources and actions (reservations, itineraries, accommodation, inquiries, transportation, price, cancellations, customer feedback, geolocation etc.) need to be processed wisely. Travel companies are now embracing Big Data Analytics to leverage this big data to provide their customers more targeted campaigns which ultimately lead to profitable services and products. Personalization and experience carry similar importance for all kinds of travels, whether for business or pleasure. The concept fits in the use of Artificial intelligence – where the software predicts and offers travel choices to its customers.

RD: Enhancing customer experiences is the most important factor for implementing a data analytics program for a travel company. Ability to quickly manage and analyse huge data from various sources has several benefits that can help the Industry serve customers better such as personalization of services, better and relevant recommendations for services, optimum pricing for value maximisation, targeted and efficient marketing, improved product and service offerings and identification of weak spots to improve processes. By using a customers’ available search and booking data, travel companies can provide customized recommendations for services that align with their preferences towards flight timings, in flight services, and hotel services, etc. 

PC: Travel industry has always been using analytics to serve customers right. With big data there is opportunity to take that to a whole new level. User personalization & customisation is just the beginning of what big data can enable. Intelligent products, aptly relevant content, efficient customer service – big data has a use almost everywhere to improve and better things and make you more relevant to your customers.


Q] What are the stakes / main challenges to businesses?

TA: To obtain a detailed picture of who a traveller is, agents and TMCs need access to all the right data at the right time. And they also need tools that can convert all the raw information into truly actionable insight. Too often, these conditions are not in place. Instead, data is siloed and stored across a variety of disparate back office systems that don’t communicate with each other (and certainly not in real time). As a result, travel agents are forced to operate with generic information that does little to empower exceptional customer experiences and drive new revenue opportunities.

SD: The evolution of consumer behaviour and the travel industry is a cyclic process, each contributing to the other. Today, consumers seek hassle-free, personalised experiences at every stage of travel. And because they have so many choices for every kind of service, their brand loyalties are fragile. The only way for players in the travel and tourism industry to survive and succeed is by delivering outstanding experiences at every consumer touchpoint and every stage of travel. And this is where emerging technologies – as they are referred to, although they have been around for a while – will have an increasingly important role to play.

RD: Main challenges to businesses / corporates revolve around the pressures to reduce costs while enhancing the technology usage. Moreover, there is high employee reluctance, especially in Indian companies, due to enhanced transparency from higher technology usage. Another challenge is the rapid advancement in technology and keeping pace with it.

PC: With the fast paced innovation happening in this space, acquiring skilled talent is a very common challenge faced. At the same time it’s the key to tapping big data potential. Another potential challenge could be keeping up with big data growth if the right architecture/infrastructure was not chosen initially. If faced with such a situation, upgrading becomes imperative. Of course with the constant tech advancements, this should be more of a nuisance than challenge.


Q] How big data analytics is solving the visibility problems and also helping in maximizing revenue? How big data can be used beneficially?

TA: Data is only truly useful to the travel professional if it’s sewn together in a way that tells a complete and meaningful story, and this is exactly what Big Data analytics platforms are designed to address. These platforms aggregate data from a variety of sources — APIs, cached data, third-party apps, etc. — into one platform. This brings everything together into a holistic view across data streams.

SD: Large enterprises with global presence frequently encounter such challenges. Centralising conventional data often posed a challenge and blocked the complete enterprise from working as one team. But big data has entirely solved this problem, offering visibility of the data throughout the organization. Another advantage to big data is that it can help the entire enterprise work as one functional unit. There is no longer any need for data silos for different functions such as marketing, finance, logistics, etc.  Big data techniques allow us to all work from the same data set and pull out what we need. Big Data allows travel providers to not only understand passenger behaviour and choice of travel but also helps in understanding the industry performance as a whole. It also helps in the revenue management and strategic pricing which enables them to maximise their income opportunities and offer best travel experiences to passengers. With the use of Big Data tools, operators in the travel and tourism industry can identify the new patterns evolving in the industry and respond with new product offerings. They can negotiate the rates with suppliers, maximise the revenues of each transaction and uncover hidden sales opportunities. Business analytics enables the operators to understand existing demand for the specific brands and accordingly forecasts the demand and supply position.

RD: India is one of the fastest-growing business travel markets globally, and leading Travel Management Companies (TMC) are building capabilities to tap into this market’s likely demand for enhanced business travel management in the near future. While some players are doing this organically, others are taking the inorganic route with mergers and acquisitions. With TMCs evolving with the changing trends and building capabilities in the data analytics space, they are also simultaneously overcoming a host of challenges. These also include overcoming the contentment of a typical travel manager with their existing manual processes to improving data quality and demystifying ‘Big Data’ to enable easier access to valuable insights. Big Data Analytics can help stop leakages and design effective pricing strategies to increase revenue. Ability to offer higher degree of personalisation can lead to competitive advantage consequently business growth.

PC: With the growth of smart-phones and mobile network, most of the users now look at small screen spaces. Real-estate is far more valuable and you only want to show customers what is relevant for them at that point of time. Big data enables you to do exactly that. You can pin-point to a set of customers and identify what is exactly valuable to them vs. others and serve them accordingly. When you take this approach, there is no opportunity lost. This creates an ecosystem which works for everyone –happy customers and happy sellers.

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