the World Bank, the number of international travel departures across the globe
has more than doubled in the last two decades, from about 650 million in 1996 to
1.45 billion in 2016. And it appears that growth is continuing, creating both opportunities
and challenges for the industry.
Technology and the data it generates are at the heart of this competitive
landscape. In a report for the 2018 World Travel and Tourism Council Global
Summit, Deloitte writes that technologies can “create personalized moments that
matter and bring joy to a travel experience still riddled with pain points,
interruptions and a lingering one-size-fits-all mentality.”
Mike Benjamin, chief technology officer of air travel intelligence company OAG,
shares his thoughts on how technology is impacting the air travel experience and
what the future may hold.
hearing so much about personalization these days. Why is that important and how
do you see that playing out in travel?
of the key places where there’s both a lot of money to be made and a lot of satisfaction
to be had. Part of what’s happened in the digital age is everything has gotten
more personal. You can keep up with friends spread all over the globe on your
Facebook or Instagram account. People expect that same level of communication
and personalization to happen as part of their travel experience.
So if my
flight’s going to be late, of course I expect the airline to tell me, but I also
expect them to tell my rental car company. I expect them to tell my hotel. I
expect somehow that my friends and relatives will know about it. And all of
that without doing any work.
And then the
other thing about personalization is: What’s the product? We all have our own
tastes and things about travel and varying that travel product, so we can take
advantage of that, is a huge opportunity.
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you just closed a big deal and you've got the flight home, maybe you don't want
just the normal bottle of wine that they've got on the plane and you're willing
to spend more for a nicer one. Getting the upgrade right, getting the seat
selection right. Maybe you’re a tall person and you really like business class
but you're okay with coach food, therefore you should get to pay a little less.
Getting that right mix of what you want is something that I think the industry
is capable of providing. We just need to move on to the next generation of
artificial intelligence factor into some of the strategies to personalize and improve
the customer experience?
There are a
lot of different areas where AI is being pursued. Three that come to mind are the "when should I buy my ticket problem" - a consumer-based thing. When is the best
time to get the best price on a certain flight?
the on-time performance question. Is the flight going to be early or late? And
of course that changes, and we’re working with Lumo - an interesting company
doing work on that front. Of course, weather is the biggest driver, and the good
news is weather is becoming fairly predictable, so that helps to understand those
early and late flights.
And how is
that personal? It’s personal because not everyone has the same reaction to when
a flight is late. If you booked a flight that puts you in a half hour ahead of a really important meeting, your opinion of being late is a lot different than
the person who's visiting their grandma - they could be three hours late, and she'll
still love them.
A lot of what makes people have a great personal travel
experiences is having the information, so they can react the way they need to
react. A well-informed traveler is a happier traveler.
...if you're happy to buy from Amazon, it’s because you're happy buying other stuff from Amazon. Thinking that travel is this special thing that you only buy a special way, I think we’ve got to think broader than that.
Mike Benjamin - OAG
another area that I think is really exciting is predicting where people want to
go. That’s kind of at the top end of the funnel. Holiday destinations and
business destination - there is a little bit of almost fashion to them in the
sense that they change each year. And so understanding where people might go and
what drives them to change where they might go.
Sometimes it's world events - a
tragedy happens in some location, and everyone suddenly decides to fly somewhere
else, whether it’s a typhoon or a terrorist act or whatever. The response to those
kinds of events is predictable, and the industry will be taking advantage of
those predictions to provide the capacity and to get the pricing that’s appropriate. All of that is driven by great data.
And how can
data be used to drive loyalty?
In sales, the
job is to sell what you have, and in marketing, the job is to have what will
sell. Part of
having loyalty is having the product that your loyal customers want, and data
is the way to figure out what they want. And to do that before there is a
glaring need. The more predictive you can be on that the better.
I think brands
will use data, whether it’s booking data or customer satisfaction data or data
around events, to make sure they have the product - at the base level the
flights and the times - that will work for people. So [for example] if business
is growing in certain parts of the world, putting in those flights that are
convenient for business people.
In June, OAG
released a report, the Future of Travel Booking and Payments. One of the
interesting things you found is that 44% of those surveyed picked Amazon as a
platform they would be willing to use for travel booking. What does that tell
kind of mind-blowing to us.
me about that is if you're happy to buy from Amazon, it’s because you're happy
buying other stuff from Amazon. Thinking that travel is this special thing that
you only buy a special way, I think we’ve got to think broader than that. Travel is just
another thing we buy, and so we’re going to be right in there competing with the other
things people buy.
I think that spells opportunity, but if you think consumers
are only going to come to your special little shop to get your special little
product, those days are over. People want to buy stuff how and where they feel
phone penetration continues to grow around the world, what will that mean for
In many ways
China is leading the charge on this. There’s nothing you can’t do on your
mobile phone in China. Certainly, buying plane tickets is a small one. You
could probably buy a house. What I think mobile phones allow you to do, which
we are just starting to think about in the travel industry, is do a better job of
thinking about the context that the traveler is in.
when you are planning your trip … as you get closer to the journey and as the
journey happens there are other times to sell things that I think are more
effective than right at the time of booking. When you're booking a ticket, at
that time usually you are fairly frugal trying to find the best deal to fit
your budget, so adding that $100 bottle of wine because you just closed a deal,
that’s not going to happen when you are booking the ticket.
But on the
way to the airport when you’ve got your phone in the back of the taxi, that
might be exactly what you want. Or more leg room or a better lounge. It’s right
there in your hand. A big green button that says, "Did you want that upgrade to
business on the way back across the pond?" That will be pretty darn tempting to
out what’s the context that the traveler is in and what options or choices would
be interesting for them at that time. On the leisure side I know TripAdvisor is
doing a lot of work on that front, and I think NDC will break that open as different
elements of the flight are sold by different channels.
What will be
the key things our industry is talking about in the next few years?
going to keep growing. And you can’t talk about travel and not talk about China.
There are a lot of countries where Chinese visitors are their top visitor. I
think that will be part of the story.
there’s an efficiency angle. In the developed part of the world it’s how do airlines
and airports get more out of the assets they have and do that in a way that's
comfortable. You don't want to feel like you're part of an efficient process
because you're cattle being pushed down a path.
Better technology in airports,
better technology at check-in, the whole process will allow the industry to be
more efficient and yet for you, it will feel also more efficient, and therefore
you’ll be more excited to travel and continue to drive that growth.
So a self-enforcing
upward spiral in growth and hopefully traveler satisfaction, which I think we can
do by really collecting and studying and using the data we have.