EyeforTravel has been in Miami this week talking data-driven insight, new distribution capability and the insane hype around blockchain. Amy Wenk reports on the discussions and debate from Day 1

Travel companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they use data to drive revenue and enhance customer experiences.

The latest methods and technologies were showcased at Day One of EyeforTravel’s annual Smart Travel Data Summit North America, held in Miami on Feb 27.

“Every individual in this room is in a fantastic position,” said Leo Langford, global conference director for EyeforTravel. “Whether you are part of a nimble startup or you are a more established, traditional travel brand, it is boom time to be in data.”

Langford added: “Data-driven insight is the ultimate enabler. It’s behind the perfect sales call, an Elon Musk-type invention and your company’s next best quarter. And it allows you to predict the future with hyper-accuracy and truly know what is personal to your customer.”

Stuart Greif, a former Microsoft exec but now practice lead of travel and hospitality for technology company Amperity, pointed to the business opportunity. He argued that there’s some $800-billion in revenue expected to shift in the next five years for the 15% of companies that get personalisation right.

There’s some $800-billion in revenue expected to shift in the next five years for the 15% of companies that get personalisation right

The stakes are high as 41% of customers dropped a brand last year due to poor personalisation, Greif said, referencing data from consulting firm Accenture.

A golden record

Crafting one ‘golden record’ for your customers is now the target of many travel companies, including rental car chain Hertz, which has some 100-million customer profiles. Over the past three years, Hertz has embarked on a major transformation to create ‘360-degree’ profiles with the goal of boosting customer service, marketing, analytics and personalisation.

Only about six percent of companies have a single view of the customer, despite 90% reporting it’s a top priority, Greif added.

“It is a challenge,” said Ricardo Rangel, senior director of data architecture for Hertz, who shared lessons the company has learned in its process. “We have been working nonstop.”

Theresa Johnson, data scientist for Airbnb, talked about the value of machine learning and how it was crucial to building the successful travel brand. Airbnb has had 200 million guest arrivals to date and lists four million homes in 191 countries.

Data is really the voice of our customers speaking to us at scale

“We use machine learning at every step of the user experience,” Johnson said. Airbnb’s innovation is driven by its data and, just days ago, the company launched several new reservation and website features. That includes new property types and ‘Airbnb Collections’ for large groups.

“Machine learning is people, not algorithms,” Johnson said. “Data is really the voice of our customers speaking to us at scale.”

Flying transformation

NDC, or new distribution capability, which aims to enhance communications between airlines and travel agents, was another focus.

“The philosophy is bringing back control to airlines,” said Ryan Harris, e-commerce and ancillary products manager for Insel Air. “This is a major transformative change that will not only change distribution, but the inner workings of the airline.”

Both Southwest Airlines and Air Canada detailed their companies’ revenue management roles over the years to outline the evolution of revenue management.

As an example, Air Canada is now looking at ways to integrate revenue management with its loyalty programmes, said Lucio Bustillo, the airline’s manager of revenue management and innovation.

Blockchain demystified

Given the “insane hype” around blockchain, Pedro Anderson, founder of nonprofit Winding Tree, attempted to demystify blockchain technology and shared how it could become the next big disruptor.

Winding Tree is in the process of creating a blockchain-based, decentralised open-source distribution platform. It may seem complex, but the end goal is to make travel cheaper for the end user and more profitable for suppliers.

“It will open up the market for competition like never before,” Anderson said. Blockchain runs on rules that everyone can see, he said, removing the need for trust and a middle man. While mainstream media has hyped up news on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, Anderson said it’s likely the wave of the future.

“It is insanely overhyped,” he said. “But, the underlying technology is here to stay.”

Missed Miami? Why not join EyeforTravel in San Francisco or London. Watch up for the Day 2 Round Up, out on Monday

EyeforTravel Europe 2018

June 2018, London

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