Data has been a vital part of the travel industry since the railroad industry in the United States created time zones to simplify scheduling and operations in the 1880s. Back then, the most important data was time. Now the most important data is — data.

According to Forbes, 70 percent of enterprises were expected to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics by the end of 2018. Many of those enterprises are in the travel industry, which benefit from data on seasonal sale trends, bookings, past travel experiences and other vital insights. Travel companies leverage big data analytics to help optimize pricing and implement predictive personalization, among other advantages.

But travel companies such as airlines, hotels and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are undergoing tremendous digital disruption and face their own unique challenges. For one thing, today’s mobile-first travelers can move seamlessly from researching to purchasing at their own pace, meaning their journey starts long before they board a plane or check into a hotel. To succeed, the travel industry needs to not just keep up with them, but use AI and other technologies to predict what they will want next.

What they want depends on who they are, something data analytics is good at defining and refining. After all, the needs of a leisure traveler are different from a business traveler, and a single traveler has different requirements than a family. But all travelers have something in common: a set of expectations that travel marketers can meet or exceed by leveraging data. To maximize their share of returns in this digital revolution, travel industry leaders are building new ecosystems based on the latest technology advancements, which include:

  • Offering immersive experiences into a destination so travelers can feel and experience the trip in advance via Virtual Reality (VR)

  • Using the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the accuracy of flight schedules while helping airlines and airports better monitor and track assets

  • Deploying AI-powered chatbots to offer seamless customer support and reduce contact center operations’ cost

While it’s a win-win for customers due to improved customer service, greater accessibility, increased convenience and relevant personalized offers, for travel companies it all comes back to data. The most effective way to exceed traveler expectations is by acquiring, accumulating and interpreting customer data. Currently, large OTAs, meta-search players, branded hotel chains and a few airlines have made significant progress in improving customer experience by delivering personalized, connected and seamless travel experiences — which is exactly what today’s and tomorrow’s traveler is looking for, whether they realize it or not.

Third-party providers that have the requisite industry knowledge, and technology and analytics expertise can help companies offer superior user experiences across multiple channels for a competitive edge.

Two examples demonstrate how these providers are leveraging data:

  • Organizing and Monetizing Data: The increased accessibility to data and investment in data architecture are compelling many companies to leverage third-party providers to create a single source of truth by bringing synergies with the help of data engineering across different digital and non-digital platforms. Using advanced data science, these providers develop interventions to enable superior customer experience, increased revenues, improved differentiation and better engagement

  • Going Beyond Traditional Analytics: AI and Machine Learning (ML) are increasingly becoming pervasive in different functions. Companies can now accurately predict customers’ needs even before they know what they want. At the same time, the efficient use of AI and ML algorithms enable companies to reduce operational bottlenecks, and focus on main cost drivers to gain an edge over their competition

For an industry that has been resistant to incorporating evolving technology, travel and tourism is still ripe for disruption. While it will keep evolving, the ultimate test for service providers will be to openly embrace the technological and cultural changes, and work closely with the right partners to co-create profitable avenues for growth and innovation.

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