By Sam Weston | November 30th, 2017
We recently attended EyeforTravel’s Digital & Data Summits in Amsterdam for 2 days packed full of learning and networking. Covering a wide range of subjects, status quo’s were challenged, new best practices outlined and some of the big, burning, questions in travel and hospitality were answered.
We thought it could be helpful to share our top 5 learnings from the event;
1. GDPR looms on the horizon
The GDPR sized elephant in the room was tackled head on, with an amusing presentation from Amer Mohammed, Head of Digital Innovations at Stena Line. Amer discussed how Stena Line have been preparing for May 2018 and explained, succinctly, for those still struggling to get their head round the new set of complex regulations that it essentially all comes down to – “not being an a**hole with the data you have!”
Of course, this raised a smile among the audience, but ultimately, it’s a very valid point. GDPR’s origins are irresponsible marketing. By being more responsible and purposeful with the data we hold, we can regain trust with our customers.
This was echoed by Brenda van Leeuwen, CEO of Eurail.com who suggested that “being transparent with customers is essential. The new law is great, it needs to be done”.
Brenda also made comment on one of the more commonly asked questions around GDPR; how do you approach using legacy data when GDPR comes into effect?
“It’s still something we need to review fully, but the new law is very much about protecting the customers, for them to say I don’t want to hear from you anymore; I want to get rid of all emails. The way I interpret the law, there’s no necessity to reach out to them again [to ask for permission], we just want to enhance the interaction.”
Amer, from Stena Line, also shared a top tip on complying with the GDPR requirement that a customer must be able to request all their data is deleted, from all systems. The answer is surprisingly simple, consolidate all data sources into a single, cloud-based, location that’s accessible by all. Then create two subsets, one with personally identifiable data, one with anonymised data – that is still very valuable for wider decision making. When a customer requests their data be deleted, Stena Line can then remove the personally identifiable subset, retaining the anonymised data. Apparently this approach has been reviewed by external legal parties and is deemed to be compliant with future regulatory changes – although there is still a lot of debate around interpretation of the regulations.
2. Focus on experimentation
There was an underlying theme throughout the entire conference; that of the need for continual experimentation. While this isn’t revolutionary within travel and hospitality; long has the industry wanted to improve the usability of our websites and drive incremental conversions, it does highlight a need to formalise the processes involved.
Dan Christian, Chief Digital Officer at The Travel Corporation shared a couple of top tips here;
- Try not to include more than 4 fields within online signup forms to help improve engagement
- A positive review next to ‘book now’ button can result in the visitor being 30% more likely to click
Expedia’s Director of Data Science, Nuno Castor, defined data science as making billions of micro decisions, each worth a few cents. It’s clear that adopting a granular approach like this, to find incremental gains supported by machine learning, is going to become increasingly important in the coming months and years.
3. User Generated Content can drive revenue gains
Fernando Vives, Chief Commercial Officer at the NH Hotel Group shared an interesting use of User Generated Content (UGC). They benchmark reviews, scoring themselves for ‘visibility boosters’, essentially how visible their properties are on review sites like TripAdvisor, and also for ‘value for money’ using both internal and external review data. This benchmarking allows them to understand how and when they can increase their rates, driving incremental revenue growth.
4. Forget the Chinese travel stereotypes
Roy Graff, Managing Director of Dragon Trail Interactive, highlighted the ever-growing importance of the Chinese market with some standout numbers, including;
- 1 out of 10 international tourists is Chinese
- 136.2 million trips taken by Chinese travellers in 2016
- China is now the number 1 outbound tourism source market
However, it was the dispelling of some of the common myths around Chinese travellers that was particularly interesting. Widely held stereotypes would suggest that Chinese travellers are comprised of a mature audience, travelling in groups. The modern reality is actually very different;
- Chinese millennials account for nearly 60% of all outbound travellers.
- The FIT (Free and Independent Traveller) market is growing massively in China, as the video below suggests:
5. Humans Vs. AI?
The question of humans vs. AI and whether technology could replace the need for us mere mortals was also discussed at length. However, the consensus was that humans work best with AI, rather than an either/or approach.
Kiwi shared some interesting insight as to how they’ve approached building their own chat bot technology using both machine learning and a human element. A careful balance of automated/canned responses and human intervention, this looks to be the industry’s preferred approach at this time, with companies like Triptease taking a similar route with their Front Desk product.
Digital is driven by data, more so than ever before. In fact, in 2017 we will generate more data than in the previous 5,000 years of humanity. However, that data can’t work in silos.
This is especially pertinent for hoteliers. As more and more technology solutions become available, so do more and more data sources and the task of evaluating all that data becomes increasingly challenging. Working with those who have open API’s that allow data sharing between your systems offers the most scalable, future-proof, solution here.
It’s easy to get carried away by hype, but it became abundantly clear that AI and machine learning has moved far beyond hype and is now very much reality. Hoteliers need to pay attention and start investing, with the caveat that machine learning should augment the human-to-human interaction that’s so inherent within hospitality, rather than replace it.
Ultimately, we must all become smarter with data, ensuring that we don’t just rely on assumptions and opinions, and make decisions based on facts.
That’s one of the reasons why we created 80 DAYS Benchmark, our free benchmarking tool allowing 4/5 star hoteliers to compare their website and digital marketing performance against the industry.