Pushing the Boundaries of Travel with Big Data

According to the report Capturing the Asian Millennial Traveller commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, Millennial Travellers (born between 1981 and 1995) will enter their peak earning and spending years over the next decade. With some 60 percent of the world's Millennials residing in Asia, this is a tremendous opportunity for the region's travel industry.

Ahead of TravelRave 2014, Asia's premier travel and tourism week, Simon Akeroyd, VP, Business Development, Amadeus Asia Pacific, shared his insights on how big data helps the travel industry capture and retain the Asian Millennial Traveller segment.

Q&A with Mr. Simon Akeroyd

VP, Business Development, Amadeus Asia Pacific

Big data is transforming the travel industry, can you briefly explain the concept of big data?

Big data refers to a massive amount of data, both structured (such as data on Excel documents or databases) and unstructured (such as e-mails or images). However, it is not just about the volume, but the variety and velocity of the data as well. The level of attention big data receives in the travel industry is well-deserved, as it will help travel companies offer a far more personalised, tailored travel option to their customers.

Traditional data management approaches don’t work for big data. There is a huge surge of online conversations around travel experiences at the moment, and how to best manage this data is still being worked out by many companies, and new forms of data analytics are required.

What impact does big data have on the travel industry?

Everyone along the travel supply chain – from airports to airlines, cruise companies, hotels, railways and travel agencies – has the ability to leverage big data to improve their business, remain competitive and maintain customer loyalty.

There are three key benefits that big data provides to both the travellers and travel industry:

1. A unique and personalised customer experience

Travel-booking has transcended beyond price as travellers demand unique experiences based on their individual tastes and preferences. Big data allows travel agents to make informed recommendations based on the travellers’ preference and behaviour, such as suggesting a hotel based on locations (closer to the city, beach, etc.) or one that is popular among their peers.

2. Knowing and predicting what customers want, even before they ask for it

Big data can help travel companies understand the ongoing requests and changing tastes of their customer base and identify patterns in consumer behaviour to determine the offering that they may want in the future.

For example, Hipmunk, an online travel booking start-up uses big data to analyse customer profiles, social graphs, airline data and reviews to help automate the process of flights-booking. They have also streamlined and catered search results based on the needs of individual travellers.

3. Competitive differentiation

Big data provides travel companies with a competitive advantage over business rivals. British Airways (BA) gained unique and in-depth customer insights from its Executive Club loyalty and it’s “Know me” programme thanks to big data.

By understanding its customer’s air travel preferences better than any other airlines, BA was able to use that information across various customer touch points. The offering of targeted products and services ensured a seamless and unique travel experience for the air travellers, while strengthening BA’s customer loyalty and revenue.

What are the big data challenges for the travel industry, and what should the travel industry focus on when they adopt big data?

There are four challenges that the industry needs to address when adopting big data:

1) Data is often fragmented across multiple functions and units. For example, an airline’s data on the passenger experience is spread across flight operations, baggage, loyalty programmes, complaint database and external sources such as social media. However, integrating all these onto one hybrid platform requires considerable financial and resource investment.

2) The integration of new big data technology architectures with existing hardware, software and database. This may lead to challenges of IT architectural cohesion and efficient functioning of all these new systems.

3) Difficulty in maintaining a sustained competitive advantage from big data. While there are airlines that have developed early competitive leads in areas such as revenue management and customer loyalty analytics, the hotel and the rail industry is already way ahead of the curve.

4) The shortage of people who are skilled in big data analysis. Known as data scientists, they are not easy to find and typically prefer working in industries where the application of big data is more mature.

Asian Millennial Travellers will enter their peak earning and spending years, potentially transforming the region’s travel industry. How is the industry using big data to capture and retain this prime segment?

While on mobile devices, the priority for Millennial Travellers is to cut through the clutter, only selecting products that save them time and benefit their own travel experience. This is where big data plays an important role for the travel provider. The insights gained through big data help deliver a tailored, memorable experience for the Millennial Travellers.

Amadeus adds value to travel agencies by using big data to ease the search process, delivering solutions to targeted travellers. Amadeus Extreme Search allows a travel provider to offer travel search options based on overall budget, number of passengers, trip duration, and even the minimum temperature at the destinations. Amadeus also analyses requests that have been asked previously and work with tour operators to integrate related services into packages.

We understand that you will be attending TravelRave 2014’s Asia Travel Leaders Summit. Can you highlight big data’s near-future possibilities for delegates?

Revenue management tools can be improved with the use of big data. Revenue management algorithms incorporate a variety of new and rich data sources such as weather conditions, and real-time decisions can be made based on that data. Pricing could also incorporate individual consumer behaviours, including loyalty and lifetime customer value, past purchases of ancillary services and Internet shopping activity.

Travel providers that embrace big data analytics will transform the entire travel process. With big data, companies are able to offer intelligent recommendations and completely customised options for the passenger’s entire travel journey – from their home to their destination, via any mode of transport.