Category Archives: Travel

A roundup of this weeks travel technology events

Personalization gone mad

Personalizaton must be relevant

Ever since 2008 I have been banging on about personalization and how it can be used to impact sales and better still “customer engagement”.  Earlier this week I attended the most excellent Travolution Summit in the exclusive and rather nice, GRANGE ST.PAULS HOTEL.  I was on a panel entitled “From a one-night-stand to a steady relationship” along with Vic Darvey, Managing director new business, travelsupermarket.com and Dirk Guenther, Sabre director, Air shopping and decision support.  Chaired by Travolution editor Lee Hayhurst (@leehayhurst) we discussed personalisation and how personalisation would be a key driver for OTA’s moving forward and also the impact of mobile on the travel market (a precis of the discussions key messages can be found here).  We also discussed the barriers to personalisation and how you need to build it into the core of your technology.  I argued that travel companies did not do a great job of getting the customer interaction right.  Vic Darvey said that legacy technology and lack of innovation from travel technology suppliers, made this extremely difficult without building from the ground up to get personal.  Whilst I agreed that there was a lack of innovation with the travel tech companies, its more of an outside in approach where you can harness the big data out there and just enable your inner sanctum to react to it. Vic Darvey’s views are expanded in an article on travolution.com.

Much was discussed at the Travolution Summit but the key take-aways were personalisation, trust, mobile first and customer engagement.  To summarise the summit messages:

  • Disruption: something that comes along to disrupt the norm.  Think mobile apps such as Uber, Hailo and twitter.
  • Personalization: to be a player travel companies are going to have to get better at using customer data and return more relevant search results offers and prices.
  • Mobile first: Travel companies should have a mobile first strategy.  This means think mobile deployment before you worry about the web and call centre strategy;
  • Trust: it’s all very well pushing offers and relevancy to customers but you don’t want to scare the crap out of them.  You need to win their trust and make sure they see your company as a welcoming friend rather than a spammer;
  • Customer engagement: Customers are happy to give travel companies their data BUT they want something in return.  Relevant and well targeted offers, with perfect timing, are the ones that will keep the customer happy and buying.  (Read my previous blog article “This time it’s personal”)
Mobile Strategy

Do we have a mobile strategy?

Later this week we had the Phocuswright Conference which although I didn’t attend (it was in Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood) watched avidly using the online stream from the centre stage.  It was great to see the Innovation Awards going to some companies who are really trying to improve the customer experience.  However, I didn’t really hear about anything this year to disrupt the industry.  Interestingly the UK and USA are in sync as the themes from Travolution Summit were again echoed across the pond.  So, high on the agenda were Disruption, Personalization, Trust, Mobile first and customer engagement.  Two presentations of particular note were TripAdvisor’s CEO Stephen Kaufer (@kaufer) and Sam Lessin (@lessin), Facebook’s Director of Product Management.  Both spoke of the “in-destination” or as Trip Advisor call it “in trip” experience and how mobile and personalization were going to “rock” the travellers experience.

A great week for Travel and Technology and so great to think I was talking about personalisation well before it eventually started being discussed at the two biggest Travel Technology events on the calendar, “now where’s that patent?”

Look out for my next blog on Meta Search: “Will Google be the new holiday meta search?”

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This time it’s personal. Why personalisation is important to the travel market.

personalisation

This time it’s personal

“I give you everything, yet you give me nothing.” – this might sound like a song title, or an argument you have had with a partner, yet it’s how I feel every time I get an email marketing communication.

I am a consumer.  I am in charge of my data.  I decide who has my data.  I take time to set up my likes etc on Facebook and I often log into sites using Facebook login instead of creating yet another anonymous email/username login.  I give companies my data so that they can use it to personalise my experience.  So why on earth don’t they use it?  I keep getting emails from travel companies offering me generic holidays and destinations, tagged with “discount”, “free children” and so on.  If they used my data they could see that clearly I have not booked a holiday with them for a long time, that I don’t ever respond to these mailings, and often don’t even click them.  Yet week after week (and I can tell you the days and times I will get each operators marketing emails) the emails come through only to be destined for the trash bin.

Travel companies should take a leaf out of Amazons book.  The Amazon marketing emails are the ones I most click on.  Not only do they get the timing just right, they have the knack of making the whole buying experience so simple that I often forget I have even made a purchase: only to receive the always welcome Amazon packaging through my door when I didn’t even expect it.  Amazon get my business because what they offer me is very relevant to me.  However, even Amazon is starting to lose a grip on the personalisation they started.  Take this example:

I use Amazon frequently, and anyone with a simple bit of data mining would realise that my last 10 purchases have all been music on vinyl (albums or LP’s to you and me).  Yet how many offers do I get daily trying to sell me the “latest electronic goods” or “Try these CD’s” or DVD’s, both of which I no longer buy.  Its as if the marketing algorithms and personalisation engine has gone wrong somewhere.  Perhaps they should add “music media format = vinyl” to their engine.  or maybe they are falling back on their “people who buy X, might also buy Y” algorithm?

In the not to distant, future, data protection will afford consumers more control over their own data.  Companies will need to be far more data-aware or risk being sued if they don’t realise this.  It won’t be a case of an unsubscribe – companies will need to provide full access to the customers data through a dashboard where the customer can pull or edit their data whenever they wish.  The consumer is becoming the “savvy consumer” (well, we are savvy, aren’t we?) and won’t take prisoners.  Companies who get it wrong will most likely lose that customer.  How many times have you purchased something, only to find it has dropped in price the next week?  There’s another personalisation engine rule: “Do not send to a customer who has just purchased”.  Have the marketing team not heard of the marketing pool?  As marketers they should have done but maybe they have become too reliant on the, now outdated, marketing tools they use?

Tesco do a great job of consumer loyalty with their Tesco loyalty card.  Consumers unknowingly give them access to purchases through the loyalty card swipe and Tesco respond with money off vouchers for the things you have in your weekly shopping basket, or clever relevant alternatives.

Travel Companies hold some very powerful data and should start to use it to their advantage.  Unlike retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare, anyone who travels has to provide their full details to the operator prior to departure.  Offline retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare will sell you something without any knowledge of who you are which is why they have to use loyalty cards.  The travel company, on the other hand, has all your information before you even travel with them.  For any holiday we have to provide our name and address and other contact details before we can travel. How powerful is that? Additionally, the travel company can make it easier for the consumer to post reviews, photos, blogs through Trip Advisor, Facebook and Twitter.  The savvy travel company can then get permission to use the consumer data (likes and dislikes) and also what the consumers friends like.  Consider the additional personal data that Facebook and twitter provide and also two new direct methods of engagement.  Couple this with access to the consumer through mobile and the tech savvy travel company can be permanently connected to the consumer using their social accounts – It has been said that with mobile, 23% of users check their accounts five times or more every day (buffer.com).  Whilst you shouldn’t expect instant returns using social media you should start using it to build your brand awareness and to deliver targeted offers.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that social is just for the young the fastest growing demographic on twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket.

So come on travel companies.  Make your customer engagement personal.  Understand your customer likes and turn your offers into bookings, and stop sending those broadcast emails out every Friday at 16:00!  Make it easy for customers to use their social networks for feedback and they will give you everything you want, but only if they feel that giving you that information will be of direct value to them.  If not, sit back and watch your customers disappear.

This article was originally published as a guest post on the Travolution website here.

Why Hotel Technology will be Travels “Next Big Thing”.

tech-savvy hotel image
For some time hotel technology has been limited to online booking.  With so many Hotels out there what will be the differentiator for both the leisure traveller and business traveller?  It’s time for hoteliers to embrace tech and step up the game.

Some tech-savvy hotel chains and hoteliers are now introducing additional mobile information to the customer:

  • Book
  • Loyalty points
  • Promote upgrades and ancillaries – social
  • Hotel info with photos and features
  • Location-based things to do and weather
  • Getting to hotel
  • Customer service notification

However, these functions are becoming the norm and the next-gen hotel needs to become a “smart-hotel”.

In addition to “basic functions” the “smart-hotel” should add power features.  These are features that make the hotel experience better for the consumer, especially the time precious business customer.

The “Always-Connected” hotel

Let’s start with always on, free Wi-Fi web access.  There is no excuse for any hotel to charge for broadband – Even McDonalds restaurants and Costa coffee houses, now provide free Wi-Fi.  I won’t even book a hotel unless I can guarantee free Wi-Fi.  I make sure at check-in that it’s available in my room and throughout the hotel.  If not, you won’t find me booking again.

Bypass check-in and open the door

OK, sometimes it’s nice to be able to chat to the reception crew but most of the time, and on a repeat booking, you arrive at the hotel and just want your room.  Imagine being able to check-in remotely from your mobile and get an update when the room is ready and your electronic NFC or barcode key is ready.  The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Marion, Illinois has enabled guests to “breeze past the front desk and head up to their room as long as they have their mobile to unlock and enable the room”.  This uses a tech from OpenWays (http://www.openways.com).  This provides a Crypto Acoustic Credential (CAC) using text messaging to deliver a unique acoustic key to the guest anywhere in the world.  The good thing about this tech is that a CAC compliant door lock can be retro-fitted to many hotel electronic locks.

In-hotel services

In the last hotel I visited, neither the TV nor the remote worked.  I could not order movies or room service (there was no phone you had to use the TV).  So, why not pop up a mobile page on your phone using NFC or post your remote check-in to order room service?  Consider the upsell opportunity here as the mobile site shows me the delights of the room service menu in glorious Hi-Def and tempts me with side orders and beverages.  Alternatively let me pre-book dinner and my selection?  Why not show reviews of each course and better still show me any peer reviews.

Downloadable movies and (free of course) and TV channels could also be facilitated to my mobile or better still via the room flat screen TV.

A relatively new app on the scene is the iRiS app (http://www.irisapps.com/).  This ingenious app enables the guest and hotelier to communicate in any language and offers the guest many enhanced features such as setting room temperature, opening the door, closing curtains and set the mood lighting.  This is a cloud based facility so that the guest can set the room temperature while they are out and about and also make spa or golf bookings, or order a meal.  The hotelier, on the other hand, can push real-time offers and discounts to the customer and also ask the customer to fill in a questionnaire: all from their mobile.

What else will we see changing our hotel experience?

Bill Payment

With a mobile enabled hotel, we should be able to review our bill each time we buy a drink or book a service with the ability to pay from the mobile.

Calls

Should you wish to call the front desk why not offer Skype or other network calling capability?  Genius, but simple.

Personal service

Hotels need to offer a more personal experience where the customer’s preferences are remembered for each visit making the customers life as easy as possible.  The hotelier can then harness the power of personalisation to send personalised offers.  I recently had a call from a hotel I regularly use in London.  Their room rates have skyrocketed and I was politely asked why my bookings had tailored off.  If they had checked my history they would have seen I only book when the price is reduced.  All they offered me was a direct contact for my next visit.  I may not return unless they do something drastic with their rates!  A great mobile experience could be just the bate I need to return.

Enabling technologies

So, smart-hoteliers need to ensure they have enabling technologies for many of the things I have mentioned above.  Why not also provide QR codes for the guest to scan to read magazines, info about the hotel?

Oh, and let us not forget, all this smart-tech must work on iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.

This article originally published in Travolution magazine Q3 2013 http://www.travolution.co.uk/.

Link
Inspirational Visual search

Jon’s visual search concept

Travolution (www.travolution.com) recently published an article on BA Holidays new visual inspirational search using images the customer can drag a selection of pictures depicting various types of trip from a gallery into a virtual brochure before asking it to come up with trips to suit the choice.

As far back as January last year (2012) I was dreaming up my own concept called Visual Search in which the customer would be inspired (using personalisation) to search for holidays based on clicking inspirational pictures.  Clicking the images would lead the customer to a holiday result set that they could then book.  I officially launched the concept at last November’s World Travel Market to a very interested press and fellow travel trade technologists.  Of course the company I was working for weren’t ready to take it forward and lo and behold we see BA Holidays now launching their inspirational search.

I have no issues with BA Holidays doing this as my concept was a lot more clever but I will launch the details of why in another post. It just shows that the travel technology market is buoyant and if you don’t lead then others will.  I have many other concepts ready to launch but I will now wait until I have a team behind me who want to deliver it.  if anyone out there is interested on my take on inspirational search please contact me through this blog or email me here

Original article in which I am quoted can be found here: http://www.travolution.com/articles/2013/07/31/6958/ba-holidays-sets-out-to-inspire-with-visual-search-feature.html

Original launch articles:

tnooz – Comtec takes search down the visual route

travolution – Comtec combines social and mobile in new visual search technology

My Illinois

A summary Travel Blog following a wonderful FAM trip to Illinois – Courtesy of Travelmole: http://www.travelmole.com and Cellet Marketing: http://www.cellet.co.uk

http://windowsofmichigan.com/

Grand Rapids in the evening

Picture courtesy of http://windowsofmichigan.com

From the moment we stepped into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow I knew this was going to be an experience of a lifetime.  Booked in for a quick trim, we made our way to the restaurant.  Scrambled Eggs and Brown Bread Toast was my order of the day followed by a relaxing Bloody Mary, or two!  A very chilled experience with comfortable surroundings and a great hairdressing team who prepared me for the flight ahead.

Called last minute to walk through to the flight there was no rush as we took our seats in Virgins re-invented Premium Economy.  Luxurious new leather seats and a fabulous new audio/video system which made the flight to Chicago a mere three movies, a cocktail in the upper class bar,  lunch and dinner!

Flying into Chicago was amazing, although the airport, like Heathrow, was some way from the city.  Greeted by the picture postcard hi-rise buildings we spent the first day and night just off the Main Strip (Michigan Avenue).  Walking down Michigan Avenue (Chicago’s main vista) and seeing the side roads with the overhead railway (Elevated Railway) and the red painted iron struts holding it up, I was reminded of such great Chicago-based movies as: Ferris Bueller, Home Alone, Breakfast Club, The Fugitive, Blues Brothers, Uncle Buck, National Lampoon’s Vacation and The Untouchables.  We topped it off with a great shopping spree diving in shops such as Sears and Macy’s, to name but a few.

So, day two we hot-footed it up to the Great Lakes and a City I had never heard of before: Grand Rapids.  Located on the Grand River in the state of Michigan, it is the second largest city in Michigan only losing out to Detroit.  Gerald Ford (38th US President) comes from here and he and his wife Betty are buried there.  Grand Rapids comes across as a City of Culture, with a large annual art festival  Festival of the Arts [http://www.festivalgr.org], and a major Beer Brewery with a wide range of excellent beers which we sampled at the brilliant “Founders Brewing Co [http://foundersbrewing.com]”.  There we sampled such exotic sounding beers as “Dirty Bastard” and “Bolt Cutter”.  We stayed at the luxurious Amway Grand Plaza Hotel [http://www.amwaygrand.com] which was excellent in every respect.  I have an extremely high expectation of any hotel I stay at and the Amway did not disappoint   From its sumptuous grand entrance lobby to the Starbucks within the Hotel, everything was perfect.  If they could just leave the bars open a little later that would be my only gripe!  The rooms were beautifully appointed and my room had plenty of space, a huge desk, a large King bed and a modern executive bathroom.  The goodies that were waiting my arrival went down well with Petit Fours, Champagne and Voss water!   Whilst wandering the streets on a balmy Sunday morning, I stumbled upon a superb little Vinyl record store [Gerry Dodds Record Shop, 20 Division Avenue, South] where I picked up some great classic vinyl at an affordable price!  Suffice to say I loved Grand Rapids and now I frequently wear the t-shirt – literally!

One other place that we visited that really deserves a mention was Holland!  Yes Michigan has it’s own little Holland with a clean and modern main street with a touch of the real Holland including Wind Mill and Dutch immigrants.  Whilst there you must pop to Lake Michigan and visit Holland Harbor Light also known as Big Red due to it’s bright red paintwork, followed by an equisite bed of bread-crumbed king prawns at the Piper Restaurant  with its panoramic views of Lake Macatawa and Eldean Marina [http://piperrestaurant.com].  Try either the pizza or the pan toasted salmon and crusty calamari washed down with a glass of Great Lakes Brewing, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter – a must!

To conclude, without a personal recommendation, I would have missed one of my new favourite cities in the world: Chicago!  I have only ever considered New York city before,  yet if I had not gone to the Great Lakes I would have missed one of the best cities I have ever visited.  Clean, fresh, interesting, brilliant, all spring to mind.  Thank you Cellet Marketing & Public Relations and the Grand Rapids!

P.S. Take the guided boat trip around Chicago – it’s the best experience ever and you learn why it’s called the Windy city (its not what you think as it’s not windy)!