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Friday, 03 November, 2017, 13 : 30 PM [IST]

Emergence of Big Data & Personalisation, the Way Forward

Disha Shah Ghosh
India is set to account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020 according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This clearly shows that the hospitality and travel and tourism companies in the country will have large number of customers to cater to in the years to come. To service this demand effectively and create and retain loyal base customers, adoption of adequate methods is a crucial requirement. This is where Big Data comes into play.

Big Data simply means handling large amounts of customer datasets and use it effectively to scale growth. This is possible by deploying predictive analytics tools to suggest personalised solutions. The method of storing data is termed as data warehousing. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) terms Big Data as ‘a future in which discovery is managed, experiences vetted and true adventure marginalised. Instead of surprise and chance, travellers are increasingly seeking vetted spontaneity. Data makes “safe surprise” a reality away from home.”



Subramanya Sharma, CMO, Cleartrip.com, says that Big Data has extremely granular level of information, which is usually more complex in structure to be utilised using traditional technologies, software or techniques. “An example would be data from customer interaction with a travel website where the website might be logging all the pages and in-page elements the customer visited or clicked on. The size of this data makes it extremely helpful in identifying hidden patterns and the granularity makes it very valuable in customisation and personalisation. Big Data provides a great opportunity to be able to decode the real requirements, needs and intent of customers at a very granular level and provide them with far more relevant choices at right times. In short, Big Data is what can really enable service providers to go beyond the ‘generic’,” Sharma says.



Scenario in India
The past decade has witnessed unprecedented developments in the travel & tourism industry in India led by technological innovations, digitisation, increasing purchasing power, growth of new airlines, products and entry of new destinations. In order to take advantage of this opportunity it is imperative for players to revise their strategy to be competitive. Currently, it is the Online Travel Agents (OTAs), and few hotel chains and large tour operating companies in India that have started deploying Big Data analytics to devise better customer generation and retention solutions. Since the OTA platform itself is based on technology, it is easier for them to incorporate Big Data as part of their operational systems. For their brick and mortar counterparts, Big Data is an expensive investment, considering the economies of scale are still not at a level where adequate capital can be spent on Big Data to generate Return On Investment.

Avijit Arya, Chief Mogul, Internet Moguls & Host, #AskAviArya on YouTube, says, “The large corporations have taken heed to Big Data and it has helped them make the some right turns in their businesses. However, I don’t see many small operators even understanding this let alone wanting to understand. This is because by and large mindsets in the travel industry haven’t changed so far. However, established OTAs and large players are on level 3.0 of this revolution; 2% are first movers everybody else remains a follower and sir on the picket.”



Benefits & Future of Big Data
The application of Big Data in businesses, which are volatile and completely price-conscious user driven, is crucial to create a product that meets their needs and suits their budget. One should realise that it is practically impossible to manually store, manage and evaluate the humongous data generated. With growth in e-Commerce and digitisation becoming a commonplace, the accumulation of customer data is just going to grow multi-fold. Therefore, usage of Big Data helps in evaluating the customer behaviour, likes, dislikes, booking patterns and trends, and accordingly offer solutions in real-time to service the customer.

The predictive analytics generated by Big Data helps travel service providers in identifying leads, segregating them in real time and focus on the ones with high conversion probability. This can help a company offer personalised solutions best suited to them. Also, it can help analyse competitor price to understand the latest market trends, which is beneficial to devise the right pricing accordingly.



Big Data can help advertisers increase their RoI through highly tailored marketing messages based on online user behaviour and their search history. Hospitality companies can use predictive analytics to track and send personalised messages by studying the behaviour of travellers. A prompt advice can make a huge impact on the customer decision making and also help in better conversions. Data analytics can instil a consumer driven decision-making approach. It’s the era of consumerism and shifting the entire focus to the consumers and understanding their buying pattern will help the industry in streamlining its diverse operations.

Daniel D D’souza, Head Sales - India and NRI markets, SOTC Travel, states, “With the help of Big Data, we can easily track customer preferences of destinations, give them suggestions and then produce personalised packages. Whether it is travel agencies, hotels, airlines or just travellers, all are benefitting from Big Data. In fact, the biggest application of Big Data in the travel industry would be the extensive personalisation of offerings made to enhance the customer experience. Price is the key component for travellers while they plan their trips.”

Today’s traveller demands unique and more inclusive. From the preferences chosen by customers in selecting and booking destinations, type of accommodation to the experiences that delight them on-ground, Big Data helps in creating the apt product-service fit and catalysing the travel ecosystem. According to Amit Madhan, President & Group Head - Technology & Shared Services, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd., “The travel industry has seen a phenomenal digital shift in the last few years due to smart phone penetration, mobile internet access/speed, and social media influence and this digital data allows for a significant amount of data and analysis. Big Data has also been proved as a powerful tool for fine-tuning and maximising our strategic brand decisions.”



In the past, customers booked majority of through offline agents. However, the tech-savvy customer today seeks unique and different travel experiences, especially with so much information available online and through social media. “A personalised experience saves customer’s efforts to search for the appropriate travel packages and reduces their dissatisfaction levels. We are also using Big Data to help suppliers manage their inventory better by providing them insights into customer search patterns... It also creates exciting opportunities for travel agencies as they will be able to offer customised solutions and achieve a marked improvement in user experience,” explains Manish Amin, Co-founder and CIO, Yatra.com.

Big Data & personalisation is having a profound positive impact on the travel industry as it offers customer insights that were hitherto not available. The focus with Big Data lies in making travel simple for customers and improving their experience by creating smarter products. An example of this is Fare Alerts. “Using historical data and trends, Fare Alerts is able to help consumers decide, when is the best time to book a ticket. It helps the user save money by notifying just before fares are about to increase and also immediately after the fares drop. Another example is Pricelock, which uses Big Data, to predict demand and future airline fares. It allows a user to lock a fare today for a small fee and return back before travel date to pay the same original locked fare without risking any fare increase,” Sharma says.



Risk of Security Breach
The kind of information that is generated through the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data by travel & tour operating companies is huge, considering the number of inquiries made and bookings undertaken on a daily basis However, businesses will have to ensure that the data is stored securely and used responsibility. With technology becoming an inseparable part of the human lifecycle, the threat of data security looms large on the industry. It is imperative for a customer-centric business to ensure that personal information is treated with utmost caution.

Neelu Singh, CEO & Director, Ezeego1.com, says, “It is not only about data collection but to also use the data responsibly. Investment into such innovations to enhance customer engagement activities has been our core focus and we would continue to drive these initiatives accordingly. It is not only about active consensus building, but also about ensuring that the company’s offerings are addressing customer needs. It is important to also train employees to be active in solving these needs, and to clearly understand the value that they are providing. Aligning the company with customers also makes it much easier to eliminate silos and more easily integrate an open sharing of data and information company-wide. This also helps foster a collaborative environment focused externally on the customer. Finally, privacy is a paramount concern when it comes to Big Data. Avoiding privacy snafus is an essential component of successful Big Data implementation, and also ensures a significant level of trust on the consumer side.”

disha.shah@saffronsynergies.in
 
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