Technology, engineering, data and rational decisions – while those
may be critical aspects of successful travel companies, they are not the only ones. In fact, according to two specialists form outside the travel industry, those characteristics may be far less
important than understanding human psychology, emotions and motivations to drive
consumer behavior toward a desired goal.
Speaking at Travelport’s “Future of Retail” customer event in
Dubai, Ogilvy vice chairman and behavioral science researcher Rory Sutherland, and Paul Zak, founder of neuroscience consultancy Immersion, both spoke on the value
of these intangible elements as the foundation of extraordinary experiences.
“Oftentimes we measure what’s easy to measure – clicks, likes,
views - and we see that as valuable intel on what people are feeling, but it’s
not,” Zak says.
“Attention just opens the door to having an amazing experience. The
experience is actually the emotional state, the feeling state that you get.
“And highly emotional experiences you want to repeat, you remember them
and they motivate us to share the experience with others.”
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Sutherland says part of the problem is that most travel systems
have been built by engineers who are driven by rational decisions and
measurable outcomes – in essence, they are “desperately trying to pretend they are not in
“But a lot of things which look like technology or look like engineering
ultimately boil down to psychology,” Sutherland says.
“And psychology ... is deeply discomforting to an engineer because they’re
used to a world where you can quantify everything that matters.”
Sutherland shared an example of Eurostar’s £6 billion
expenditure in 2007 to build new tracks between London and Paris. While that shortened
the time of the journey, he says it was actually the addition of Wi-Fi several
years later that gave Eurostar a stronger advantage over air travel.
“The perception of time as measured by
engineers is measured in seconds. In humans, it’s kind of measured in pain or
boredom or irritation; it’s not measured in seconds,” he says.
“If we only try to optimize travel and transportation using
objective numerical criteria ... we’ll miss out on a lot of things.”
As another example, Sutherland says airline websites
are clearly designed for business, not leisure, travelers since the choices are
focused on asking where and when the user is traveling and what class of ticket
“To a consumer all of those questions can be ‘it
depends.’ Search for a consumer is an iterative process,” he says.
“I don’t think we’ve even yet designed a really, really good
interface for consumer travel selection. We need somehow a much, much better
way of looking for travel which acknowledges the messiness of human
decision-making as opposed to the neatness of business decision-making.”
Yield and revenue management are other aspects of the industry he
says need to be revised with consideration for what really matters to travelers
rather than just using price as the primary lever.
If we only try to optimize travel and transportation using objective numerical criteria ... we’ll miss out on a lot of things.
Rory Sutherland - Ogilvy
“[For example] about 20% of people would be motivated to go on a
later flight if all you put on the website was this is the least crowded flight
of the day. Because what’s the best airline in the world? In many ways it’s the
one that is not crowded,” Sutherland says.
“Economics and logic and numbers have taken over yield and revenue
management to far too great an extent. There are loads and loads of ways you
can change people’s behavior before you have to resort to bribing, and I think
yield and revenue management at the moment simply use the price mechanism as if
there’s no other motivation.”
By analyzing the brains of more than 50,000 people to measure
their unconscious reactions, Zak says his agency has formulated a five-stage
plan to creating a highly emotional, “amazing” experience.
The concept uses the acronym SIRTA. The first step is “staging,”
which Zak describes as making a customer feel comfortable. In the case of a
travel provider this can be done by saving user preferences and using artificial
intelligence to streamline and expedite the booking experience.
The next step is “immersion” – which can take the form
of providing photos and content that help the consumer understand what the
experience will look and feel like before, during and after a trip.
The third concept is “relevance.” Zak says consumers
respond more positively when digital interactions with a brand are customized
to their needs.
Fourth, brands should “target” their most loyal customers. “The
super fans will work for you for free,” he says. “Let them help you. Leverage
their energy, their passion, their emotion ... they’re also the greatest test
And finally, Zak says to solidify the experience with a clear call to
* The reporter's attendance at the event was supported by Travelport.