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On Day 2 of the EyeforTravel Smart Data Summit in Amsterdam last week, Senay Boztas heard that it's really pixels that drive customer sales and profits

Big data might turn people into ‘fragments’ – but if travel companies piece it together into simple snapshots of customers, they can turn pixels into profits.

This is the view of Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer in advertising and partnerships at Lastminute.com Group. In the second day of the EyeforTravel Smart Data Summit 2016 in Amsterdam last week, top travel businesses argued a little data can have a big impact.

“The world is so full of data, we’re almost getting fragmented as people,” said Di Lorenzo. “I would like to ban ‘big data’. I would substitute it with actionable information, data with purpose, to improve customer experience and create commercial opportunities.”

Her company buckets customer information into three categories: socio-demographic facts, travel information and location, using Krux marketing software. ‘Jane’, a 32-year-old character who travels to beach locations twice a year where kite-surfing is popular, will get suggestions for perfect sporting holidays, for instance.

It’s about predicting in a simple way what a customer might be interested in – simple inferences based on common sense

Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer in advertising and partnerships, Lastminute.com

“It’s about predicting in a simple way what a customer might be interested in – simple inferences based on common sense,” she said. “We found simple predictions have massive impact in terms of conversion and customer loyalty. It might [also] lead to commercial opportunities – we offer brands the ability to connect with Jane, and they pay us.”

Expedia, which has more than 400-million unique customer visits each month, and owns brands including Trivago and HomeAway, believes that the smallest travel firm can compete by using data to identify – and better serve – customer segments.

“If you are not willing to put the customer first, all the terabytes of data and machine learning algorithms aren’t going to help you,” said Jan Krasnodebski, director of lodging revenue optimisation. “The person with less data, trying to give the best personal experience is going to do better.”

Figures should be used for personal service, according to Carlos Sanchez, a senior manager of big data analytics at business travel firm, Carlson Wagonlit Travel: “To make travel great again, put the traveller first,” he said. “Share an experience. If you don’t understand what the customer wants, the data is useless.”

Giving the customer a voice online, by allowing reviews on your web and mobile pages and dealing with comments on review sites and social media, is another element. Emanuel Zeiler, chief executive of Romanian online travel startup navigator.ro said: “We are sceptical when we don’t see the negative reviews. Even though there are owners who say ‘TripAdvisor put me out of business,’ this is natural selection. We should encourage the user to review and in the end everybody gets better.”

Fergus Boyd, VP of digital and IT at new ‘affordable luxury’ hotel chain Yotel has another idea: use customer content to generate a bigger “bang for your buck” than you can afford with advertising, and rather than encouraging them to write reviews, offer online photography lessons plus rewards for posting pictures!

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