Digital has undoubtedly played a huge role in streamlining and enhancing modern travellers’ journeys, largely fuelled by data.

In the online space this is particularly marked. We are currently at the tipping point of moving from cookie and ID based interaction to people based search and data onboarding platforms – making online activity more able to be connected to real world experience.

Now that we have a near-endless range of data, platforms and tools at our disposal, now more than ever we can truly tap into customers’ needs and enhance those journeys – from long before the point when a traveller arrives at the airport to when they reach their destination and beyond.

As customer needs continue to evolve, so brand use of their data also has to keep pace. It’s no surprise that people-based search, where companies can respond to specific individual needs, is in hot demand. People-based level insight provides great insight into customers, linking both online and offline actions together.

This is becoming incredibly important in travel hospitality, for example, where the need to connect with guests and encourage repeat business is indelibly linked to the value of the experiences they encounter during their visit. Hilton Hotel’s focus is improving their customer identification and the end-to-end digital experience. Today, they deploy a visitor’s room key onto their mobile and are discussing installing auto-setup of visitors’ Netflix and Spotify accounts in hotel rooms.

The use of programmatic marketing is also on the rise, targeting the most relevant customers ‘in the moment’ to encourage direct booking. Programmatic enables marketers to drive business outcomes, in a quantifiable manner, with greater control and transparency. Major travel brands have acknowledged this, and are investing significantly, committing large proportions of their digital budgets to programmatic marketing to improve customer conversion and retention. The wealth of rich data that travel brands and companies hold means programmatic advertising and marketing can be used to deploy highly tailored communications to their target audience which translates to their ROI, attribution, ratios and downloads.

At this year’s Digital Travel Summit it was highlighted that some companies are not able to effectively attribute how they acquire customers to specific tactics. A major discussion point was also the acknowledged difficulty in enabling people to seamlessly switch between the channels that are most convenient to them in brand communications. Luckily, technology is helping travel to overcome these hurdles too.

Through our work with Heathrow Airport using data onboarding and identity resolution, they have tackled some of these challenges head on. By connecting the online and real-world Heathrow experience more directly, the airport is reaching different audience segments based on known action such as past purchase history, location-triggering or other touchpoints. This has allowed Heathrow to understand and engage with the thousands of people coming through their doors on a daily basis. It also means customers receive more personalised communications at every step of their journey - whether it is using the car park or duty-free shopping - making their journey as seamless and tailored as possible.

As Rory Sutherland encouraged in his speech at the Summit, travel needs to not stand still in its quest to connect with consumers. Processes need to be continually rethought and solutions approached with different mindsets. In no other sector has the transformative nature of digital overhauled how people engage with their brands and providers more so than travel – but people are still heading on trips in record numbers.

The challenge - and opportunity - facing the industry now lies not just in adapting to digital change, but in identifying and recognising their customers’ needs, often on an individual and ongoing basis. In attempting to build stronger, closer, and long-lasting relationships with valued customers, brands need to continually demonstrate a close understanding and response to these travellers’ needs.

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