Personalised inspiration: empowering ultimate travel search
The travel industry has always been in the inspiration business. Ours is an industry that leverages curiosity and realises experiences which bring us together and open the world.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Hugo Burge, CEO of Momondo Group.
But for all of the wider social and economic benefits travel brings to the global community, there is a personal and emotional element behind every individual’s travel decision. This creates a complex landscape for an industry, where broad brush approaches to sales and marketing miss the nuances of a personalised approach. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for brands willing to take on the challenge.
Targeted inspiration has been the basic building block of every travel industry marketing campaign since Mr Thomas Cook first realised that people’s wanderlust could be commoditised. The early marketing efforts from railway companies and resorts used paintings of enticing destinations, giving birth to the concept of a seaside holiday, accessible to city dwellers via the train network.
Later, television advertising appeared and offered different creative possibilities. Campaign content evolved to focus on inspiring different consumer segments through experiences, in what could be viewed as an early precursor to personalisation and targeting. Brands differentiated themselves to build relevancy and emotional connection.
Then, early in the 2000s, the traditional travel agent model was steadily overthrown by the shift to online booking, which in turn was complemented by the rise of metasearch. This was generally one step back from the individualised customer care of the traditional agent, and focussed more on giving travellers a better overview of the marketplace.
Although these travellers were digitally empowered to secure the best price deals, they missed out on the personalised guidance and inspiration which used to come from the travel agent.
So while online was able to supply the information to make better travel decisions, inspiration needed to come from elsewhere – friends, family, TV programmes and newspaper travel supplements filled the gap.
Online travel search became a successful mass market product because of its raw functionality. Inspiring travellers was never part of the sector’s mission statement.
An elephant in the chat room
Today, that inspiration is increasingly coming from more automated means.
There is much discussion around artificial intelligence and chat, and how they can inspire travellers in a similar way to the traditional travel agent.
Key enabling technologies – such as cognitive computing and machine learning – have emerged to help uncertain travellers make purchasing decisions, re-injecting a more personalised service at the same time.
We at Momondo Group are still not sold on whether chat can ever really replace search or the traditional agent for more complex situations. It certainly has its place, and indeed there are some championing chat as key to the future of the industry.
Momondo Group is in the first few miles of what we believe will be a long journey with these technologies for our Cheapflights and Momondo products – carefully evaluating and learning, for example, that a bot for the sake of it could compromise brand values.
It is true that bots respond quickly with suggestions which hopefully inspire potential customers, but I’d question whether the returned results are always the most relevant and inspiring to the consumer—or simply the best ones the bot could access?
Plus there are considerations around tone of voice, utility, relevance and timeliness which must be factored in.
True, bots can help with the simplest of queries, but is that where they are needed?
The strongest argument for cyborgian assistance is that we see a future where they will be sophisticated enough to be of use, so we need to start somewhere.
Generally, however, our approach to achieving inspiration amongst our users is more holistic. We believe that brands should pay serious attention to how they bridge the burgeoning gap between technology and the user, by putting the user at the heart of their thinking.
At Momondo Group, striving to innovate around this concept of a ‘human touch’ has informed our product development, design, content and marketing efforts for some time as we develop a search experience that is seamless, simple and inspiring.
Meta-inspiration: good for the brand and consumer
The traditional view of metas delivering only a price-driven, commoditised service to consumers is outdated. Every metasearch brand has the potential to inspire its customers.
Of course, some travellers will continue to use metas to find the cheapest flight or hotel, which is necessary to build trust, but it is perfectly possible for metas to inspire travellers about where to visit via smart personalised content and communication to offer up-selling opportunities and deliver a loyalty-building experience.
Our overarching strategy is to combine inspiration with hardcore price transparency, tied together by an optimal user experience which has a human touch at the core.
Providing value to the user, whether or not they become a customer, is our goal. Fulfilled and impressed users are a higher priority for us than short-term revenues.
Of course, we want to make sure that in the end we inspire the user to book a great travel experience, but if we help them early on in their decision-making journey, we know that they will return.
Inspiring, personalised content can of course take many forms but it is at its most effective when it is relevant to the user’s need state and their relative position in the decision-making journey.
Get the timing, balance and positioning right and it can exert a powerful and sudden influence.
In The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot noted that inspiration occurs spontaneously, without prior intention. They outlined its transcendent characteristics, which often manifest in a sudden clear vision or awareness of a new possibility.
Inspiration, therefore, delivered in a timely and appropriate manner is what the travel search industry should be seeking.
Thrash and Elliot also wrote that inspiration involves both the instance of being inspired and then acting on that inspiration, and that inspired people are more open to new experiences.
Inspiration is a key to loyalty, the personal experience and improving online travel search – the missing Holy Grail.
We believe that metasearch brands are in a great position to spark the urge to travel, to build trust, to personalise their inspirational content and help increase loyalty. We will examine these concepts through a series of articles on Tnooz.
Momondo Group – the role of personalisation in travel search (Nov16)