Big Data in travel: Rubber hitting the road, but only for someNewsBy Evan Konwiser | January 25, 2013Share This article was originally published on Big data and how it will have a massive impact on the travel industry - yup, we've been hearing anawful lotaboutthat over the course of the past 18 months or so.But last week’s Smart Analytics Conference, hosted by EyeForTravel in New York City, was a rare insight under the hood of travel marketing.Instead of the high level, big picture, often aspirational images we see from travel marketers at the major conferences, we heard from the managers, directors, and VPs of data and analytics about what they are actually doing.The result was part-pessimistic confirmation and part-pleasant surprise. There are still have and have nots when it comes to data-driven marketing. But the haves continue to move fast and innovatively. The have nots continue to stumble.Indeed, the gap appears to be growing, not closing, and it’s clear the hotel brands are leading the pack.Winners (and therefore there will be losers)For those making progress, it was a story of fast-paced optimization of overall ad spend, customer relationship management, and loyalty marketing.Brands such as Diamond Resorts International and Choice Hotels told of impressive resources, initiatives, and, if you dare believe it, tangible results.Some travel companies are now sporting teams of five or 15 people devoted 100% to supporting data and analytics across their organizations.They have torn down the siloes that have stymied this functionality for so long and reaped the benefits. Presenters discussed Orbitz’s 2012 Mac versus PC browser targeting debacle as a warning, yet were not overly sympathetic.It’s clear most people appreciate data as a human challenge as much as a technical one. Giving too little credence to one over the other is a rookie mistake. The one exception to the progress demonstrated is social media data.The unstructured, inconsistent, and unreliable nature of that data makes it hard to implement effectively. Despite unanimous agreement of its potential power, few are harnessing it today. Look for that to be the next frontier of investment for many of these companies in 2013.Desperate voicesFor those still struggling, the call from the wild was palpable and desperate. We heard of naysayers and lack of dollars available keeping companies in the 20th century.As William Beckler from Lastminute.com/Travelocity Europe said: "Eventually the data will win."Share this quote But that eventuality might spell doom for some competitors. Most startling was the relative absence in voice from the air part of the industry.Chris Amenechi, former-VP of ecommerce and merchandising at United, offered a vision that could best be described as wishful thinking for airlines, still famous for sending generic emails to even its best customers.The data silos and lack of investment will take their toll as others continue apace.The writing is on the wall for anyone with any degree of responsibility of marketing travel. The haves and have nots will continue to separate, and proof will be in results, not keynotes at conferences.Any travel brand has a vision for custom, targeted marketing and revenue management that harmonizes all data into a powerful tool. But some are beginning to execute masterfully while others are clearly struggling.This year promises to further separate the winners from the losers, until this becomes a bigger topic of conversation from the CEO’s office as well.NB: Burning rubber image via Shutterstock.