Pamela Whitby rounds up some of the themes to emerge on Day 1 of EyeforTravel's Amsterdam conference

Digital is the vision. Data is what underpins it. This was the broad-brush theme on Day 1 of EyeforTravel’s co-located data and digital strategies conferences, which continues in Amsterdam today.  

Speaking on the opening keynote about the “rich data driven organisation” that Accor Hotels has become was chief data officer, Fabrice Otano. “After investing for three years, we’ve tried to create competitive advantage based on digital, but more and more driven by data,” he said.  

Digital transformation at NH Hotel Group has also been three years in the making. Fernando Vives, the group’s chief commercial officer, said the group had quickly recognised that teams should “not be working with different sources of data”. Among the steps NH has taken to address this, is to shift all hotel systems – from customer relationship to central reservations and property management - to one database and develop a white-label solution for revenue management.  

Another keynoter, Eurail CEO Brenda van Leeuwen, stressed the importance of having the right IT and data models, and the right competencies across the business to interpret both structured and unstructured data. “Data is big and everywhere but you need to have it small to make decisions,” she said.  

Data is big and everywhere but you need to have it small to make decisions

Brenda van Leeuwen, CEO, Eurail

At the world’s biggest travel company, US-based The Travel Corporation (TTC), data – as is still the case in many organisations - was previously structured in silos. TTC’s chief digital officer Dan Christian said by making data a “major focus” and leveraging it across the business, there had been clear benefits in driving traffic and generating conversions.  

The importance of organisational change being led from the top was another hot topic. “Development of people starts with me as CEO,” van Leeuwen said.

Otano pointed to the importance of training people “not to be shy or afraid of data". He added that: “It’s not just a technological transformation, it’s more cultural." 

On the pressing issue of what brands will do with legacy data when the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force next year, Eurail, for one, is reviewing internal processes and ensuring that opt-in and opt-out measures are firmly in place.

While recognising the importance of transparency, van Leeuwen stressed that, “staying in touch with customers is an essential part of our business”. On a positive note, however, she felt the new law gave “enough room to stay in contact and further enhance interaction with customers”. 

Watch out for a more detailed update on GDPR next week!

In search of truth

Having fragmented data, or the same data from multiple sources, is the worst nightmare of IATA Head of Business Intelligence Andrei Grintchenko. In an ideal world, organisations would be able to establish a single source of truth from data, but that was difficult to agree on, he said. 

Mark Shilton, Principle Data Scientist, Skyscanner acknowledged that he’d never worked in an organisation where a single source of truth could be established. Instead, it was about working out where you sit on the “continuum of chaos” and finding a way to give people across the organisation access to the data they need at the right time. 

For Yann Raoul CEO at travel metasearch Gopili, it was about knowing how to organise the data and analytics. “We strongly believe it needs to be embedded in every department… to make everyone aligned. Everyone must speak the same language.”  

Having data driven decisions takes the emotion out of it

Andrei Grintchenko,Head of Business Intelligence, IATA  

Grintchenko agreed that people must be equipped with the right tools (and mindset!) to make rational decisions. “Having data driven decisions takes the emotion out of it,” he said.  

Innovation and disruption

The rise of new and innovative technologies like chatbots, voice, blockchain and more, and their application in the travel space were also up for discussion yesterday.

Ambitious plans were heard from Amer Mohamed, Head of Digital, Stena, which has invested €50m to date on its 2021 goal to become the world’s first cognitive ferry operator, which is fully driven by artificial intelligence.  

Picking up on an overarching theme of the day he said: “We need all data in one place, and accessible to all”. In pursuing this goal, Stena had “accidentally solved the GDPR issue”.  

Meanwhile on a digital panel titled the ‘appetite for apps’, Stephen Glenfield, head of digital at Heathrow, revealed that in the next couple of weeks, the UK’s biggest airport would release one for Alexa. 

On the other hand, Stephen Keschelis, VP E-Commerce, NH Hotel Group, said they were looking into the application of voice systems but weren't quite there yet. “Whoever has kids loves Siri because it’s a lot of fun, but if you look around your office you don’t see so many people talking to their phone,” he said.   

Whoever has kids loves Siri because it’s a lot of fun, but if you look around your office you don’t see so many people talking to their phone

Stephen Keschelis, VP E-Commerce, NH Hotel Group

If voice search still has a way to go, then even further on the horizon is blockchain. In one of the day’s closing panels, a distinction was made between private and ‘public permissionless’ blockchains and possible use cases for travel.   

However, as Joerg Esser, a former group director of Thomas Cook and now partner at consultancy Roland Berger, pointed out, when it comes to blockchain business models, and the likely impact on the travel industry, it is a still a “blur”.

Having said that, there is still plenty of reason to, at the very least, understand the possibilities that blockchain raises for the democratisation of data, consensus at scale and true industry disruption.   

Missed the Amsterdam event? Join us next year for EyeforTravel Europe. And don't forget to watch out for more event round ups in the coming days and weeks 

EyeforTravel Europe 2018

June 2018, London

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