9 months ago
 

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.

History lesson

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.

Defining moments

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.

SC JAN17 MMG logo 400w

NB: This is a viewpoint by Hugo Burge, CEO of Momondo Group. It appears here as part of Tnooz’s sponsored content initiative.

See also:
Momondo Group – the role of personalisation in travel search (Nov16)

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About the Writer :: Sponsored Content

This is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles that are part of our sponsored content initiative. Our sponsored content is produced in collaboration with industry partners. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of tnooz, its writers, or partners.

 

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  1. Mathieu Lavedrine

    Hi Hugo,
    I very much enjoyed reading your article!
    I absolutely agree that inspiration is key to creating value for customers, probably more in the travel industry than in any other. As you say, delivering that inspiration in a timely and appropriate manner is great objective for companies and I would add that the responsibility probably lies between IT for the execution and Marketing for the content.
    There is no doubt Artificial Intelligence can facilitate this task although I also agree that chat-bots are still lacking too much of that all-important human touch.
    In my experience with many companies in the travel industry, the best results are achieved when people are leveraged for their creativity (content, UI, solutions, innovation, etc.) and technology (more specifically AI) is an enabler.
    For example, a marketing team could create great inspirational content on various topics but getting it in front of the right customer is the real challenge. Two use-cases here:
    – The customer is actively searching and you can react to this intent by suggesting a very relevant (and inspirational) destination. Here comes the chatbot, the interactive UI and many technics that can optimise conversion.
    – The customer is not actively searching (i.e. they are “sitting” in your CRM database) and you need to target the right email audience for each piece of inspirational content marketing has prepared. Without fresh intent, figuring out the affinity of each customer for each piece of content and selecting the most relevant one is virtually impossible to do manually (and this is where AI can be a powerful enabler).
    In the above scenario, it is important to look at the number of customers falling into the two categories. On any given day, you probably have about 1% of the people in your CRM database who are active on the site which leaves 99% available for inspiration via Outbound channels. In other words, as much as it is crucial to facilitate and optimise the conversion of the 1%, there is also a huge opportunity to inspire the 99% into visiting the site…
    A little disclaimer, I work for an Artificial Intelligence company and what you wrote really resonates with what we preach. The challenge being that each potential customer in your CRM will have different levels of affinity to specific Destinations/Topics (romantic, beach, architecture, etc…)/Type of holiday (city break, long haul, etc…) or even single hotels… but not everything is relevant to everyone and you can’t “stuff it all” in a newsletter which is often the fall-back strategy…
    A captivating topic!
    Mathieu

     
    • Hugo Burge

      All great points, thanks for chipping in Mathieu. I’m excited about what AI can do in the future, and whilst I’m pretty ignorant of the tech details, there seems to be a long road ahead: even from sophisticated Companies with all my booking data they target me with useless post-trip info and inspirational content that completely fails to grasp what might interest me. The complex problems are the exciting ones and travel is full of them. Even Amazon, which does some clever stuff making meaningful (and profitable) recommendations to me personally, also sends through things that are so bogus it hurts. The process of iterating AI with human customer service to iron out the wrinkles, sprinkle in the human touch and help in the learnings seems a smart way to go to me. On a very simple and practical level though, we have seen how our newsletters can be transformed through some smart personalisation and targeting. A lot more to learn and solve. And more articles on this subject to come… thanks again for reading & joining conversation. Good luck in your AI endeavours and curious as to how you progress.

       
      • Mathieu Lavedrine

        Couldn’t agree more on Amazon, they can be fairly clever but are also still retargeting me with emails about the TV I have already bought from them a few weeks ago!
        To be fair, those are indeed non-trivial problems and I think the companies iterating and trying to solve them right now will have gained a strong competitive advantage by the time the dust settles… Looking forward to the next article!

        Mathieu

         
        • Hugo Burge

          Being re-targetted with things you have already bought is seriously irksome. Thanks. Next article is out and the 3rd, by Rob our Group CTO has just come out too 😉

           
  2. Richard McCartney

    Traveller trust around personalising and curating travel search results could potentially be a sticking point for brands looking to differentiate their offering.

    Is personalisation taking place for the consumers or the retailers benefit?
    When you’re asked when booking a flight if its for business or leisure where is the payback and instant win for the traveller in providing that insight? Are the flights now ranked in order of what is best for the business traveller if that box is ticked or are they still ranked by price and a cookie tucked away that this traveller will pay higher prices for the same products as they are travelling on business?

    Retailers are seeking to work with huge amounts of historical data on users behaviour but what will it take for consumers to generate and share their own intimate data that unlocks their desires enabling retailers to match relevant offers, rather than try to predict the products users will buy that give the highest return to the retailer.

    Is there even an incentive to empower the traveller with a personalised result that offers less return to the big travel monopolies than the high commission, booked 75 times in the last hour and only 1 left product they currently are programmed to push?

    As a newcomer to travel distribution I may be missing the obvious but currently booking travel appears to be not about what is best for you and more about what is best for the retailer.

     
    • Hugo Burge

      Thanks Richard, this is a discussion and exploration of how personalised inspiration can help the consumer. Our primary Company goal at Momondo Group is to build products users love – we believe that other things are short termist and don’t build loyalty. We have been in a different place to this and paid a price, so after years of transitioning the business to this focus we are keen to keep on track and make difficult decisions to continue to focus on this goal.

       
  3. jules kragen

    Hugo, I could not agree more.

    In our market, vacation rental travel, we are working on these very issues but with an old fashioned approach. How to bring trust back into the vacation rental world. We spent the last two years creating a new approach to the vacation rental business: Scertified. To ensure that vacation apartment rentals are safe, secure and satisfying. By personalizing our interaction with our customers we hope to make that change even if we still talk to them. Please check us out and send me any feedback you like. Thanks!

     
    • Hugo Burge

      Thanks Jules. I’m not an expert in the vacation rental travel market, but your certification process looks helpful and security seems a foundation for helping consumers to have a good experience. Are there any ways to help users find the type of property that would work for their type of trip – ie. business, culture, relaxing etc and would help with the personalisation conundrum? Also, I always understood that availability was the key search issue for vacation rentals – any views on that?

       
  4. Mike Davis

    What does NB stand for?

     
    • Hugo Burge

      Usually NB is short for the latin Nota Bene – meaning: note well – a bit old fashioned but useful. But if we are talking pre-dinner snacks then Nibbly Bits (although this might not be universal).

       
  5. peter syme

    All basic travel like flights, trains, accommodation, car hire etc will become 99% automated. This will lead to the customer valuing even more than they do today the experience of the none automated parts of the travel experience. The meal in the exotic restaurant, the Asian cookery class they took, the adventure activity etc. Combine this with the promise of blockchain technology and we may actually start to have true change and disruption in the industry that really helps the traveller.

     
    • Hugo Burge

      Thanks @Peter, I tend to agree that the experiences and personal touches there are growing in importance – in an increasingly automated and mass market world, we value not being just another reservation or booking. Not sure i agree on the 99% automation though but it is an aspiration, even these simple products are complicated when it comes to inspiration and making personalised recommendations. We have different travel habits at different times – different moods if you like. We combine predictable habits with unpredictable variances or responses to complex changing options. Voice and text search requires a whole new level of prediction, trust and ease of fulfilment that challenges current systems beyond what they currently do. Interesting times. Anyhow, i don’t want to jump the gun on our next parts of the series. Thanks again for joining the conversation – as an industry we have some exciting opportunities and challenges ahead.

       
 
 

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