High-end, boutique travel agents know their clients inside out. They know their favorite destinations, flight carriers, and hoteliers, creating the customer the perfect tailor-made trip.
But, despite what a traditional travel booking agent can offer, today, most people book their vacations online. However, because a travel booking agent is online does not need to mean the service is impersonal. Now, a number of online travel retailers are deploying data-driven processes that analyze a customer’s preferences. Whether utilizing human knowledge or AI, these new-wave travel agents are replicating the boutique travel experience for the web. Here, discover how these companies are using data-driven strategies to create a thoroughly personalized booking experience.
Introducing the data-driven travel agent
According to statistics collected by The Atlantic, the number of travel agents in the United States feel from 124,000 to 74,000 between 2000 and 2014. Although the full transition to online services is not complete, this research shows that digital agents are dominating the travel industry. Now, online travel services have almost entirely eliminated the need for a human liaison between the travel industry and the consumer.
Today, data-enhanced platforms enable companies to make recommendations based on customer behavior. These websites and apps enable customers to set alerts and find the best deals with a relative amount of ease. Although these platforms are good at helping consumers find competitive prices, they lack a personal touch. In fact, many consumers miss the interpersonal experience of booking through a travel agent.
As a result, some innovative startups are attempting to fill the gap in the market. These companies are using big data to personalize search functions alongside live agents that add the human touch so many consumers crave. Their technology is getting more and more sophisticated as time goes on, offering travelers the perfect medium between technology and humanity.
The key differences between traditional and digital agents
The key difference between these data-driven agents and traditional models is that they are more geared towards consultation. Whereas previously consumers would have relied on an agent to make a booking, now, they look to agents for advice and expertise. Therefore, these digital agents act more like project managers, advising clients on accommodation, activities, restaurants, and special offers. By making bespoke recommendations, these agents add a personal touch whilst exploiting significant opportunities for cross- and up-selling.
However, this is not to say that these agents signal any sort of retreat into traditional travel booking methods. By combing smart device data with predictive analytics, these companies track their customers' preferences to produce fully personalized packages. Furthermore, this advanced approach to big data enables them to better segment customer data. For instance, they can analyze metadata to track the travel patterns of specific demographics. Armed with this intelligence, they can develop a detailed picture of what motivates the modern traveler.
Case studies: How leaders in travel are deploying data
Cut the commission: Membership schemes
On the more human-driven, premium end of the spectrum is Savanti Travel. Founded by travel industry leaders Dan Lack and Leigh Rowan, Savanti requires a $1,000 per month fee for unlimited travel planning. This may sound expensive, but Savanti claim that the membership system eliminates the conflict of interest rooted in a commission-based transaction – where profits rise with expensive bookings. Subsequently, the company’s modus operandi is to help customers save by finding unusual travel packages and exploiting loyalty schemes.
For example, a case study on their website states that a customer was looking for a first class ticket from London to LA with British Airways. The price on the BA website was over $19,000 – but Savanti found an obscure hotel and flight bundle that only cost $5,300. Unsurprisingly, the first-class flier found a different hotel – but they did save themselves around $14,000.
Chatbots: The next generation
Once the scourge of the customer experience, the chatbot has recently been taken to a new level. Using a combination of human knowledge and artificial intelligence, apps like Mezi (which was recently acquired by American Express) create a fully personalized digital experience. In most cases, their chatbots can resolve most interactions in 5 messages or less. Nonetheless, if the chatbot is not up to the task, a human seamlessly steps in to troubleshoot.
Furthermore, the more traffic the app generates, the more it learns about its users. By analyzing customer data, the app can identify interests and preferences. So, to illustrate, if a customer shows an interest in art and design, Mezi will suggest a chic hotel in a cultural district.
Other larger enterprises are now unlocking the power of properly optimized chatbots. For instance, online travel giants Expedia now have the capability to take bookings through Facebook Messenger and Skype. Their Vice President of Global Product, Dave Fleischman, says their aspiration for the tool is to provide both practical and creative advice to customers.
Crowdsourcing savings: Your remote travel booking agent
Now, there are very few business transactions that cannot be delivered remotely by a freelancer. Travel booking agent Flightfox – which deal exclusively in airfares – began taking advantage of this trend in 2012. For a small fee, Flightfox takes booking requests and distributes them to a network of freelance agents. The freelancers then compete to find the best deal. Specializing in complicated itineraries and business class flights, Flightfox are exploiting digital freelancing for the travel industry.
Big data: The future of travel agents
Many of us think the travel agent is a thing of the past. However, big data has undoubtedly changed the role of the travel booking agent. Now, new technology with a human touch is making the travel agent a key player in the industry once again. In fact, there is no more exciting time to be a travel agent than now. Big data is making it easier than ever to construct bespoke itineraries, enabling travel agents to continuously exceed customer expectations. As such, big data does not spell the end for travel agents; quite the opposite. It just signals a shift in how they perform their role.
As these case studies demonstrate, travel agents need not fear big data. Through analytics, agents can find better flights, better hotels, and broker big deals. Finally, and most importantly, data can help agents to facilitate the best possible booking experience for their customers. Every travel booking agent knows that every customer’s experience matters. By harnessing the power of big data, travel agents can seek to create beautifully crafted travel products that their customers will love.