IN-DEPTH: Talk of data analytics and its value in delivering a meaningful experience can be futile if a travel company isn’t efficient enough in collecting and sourcing data appropriately. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta explores the lessons for hotels and airlines.
Using data to understand travellers–be it for targeting new or loyal customers via promotions or marketing campaigns–can’t be underestimated. The way data is collected and managed paves the way for segmentation and can seriously shape what is being offered to consumers.
This is not only relevant to hotels or airlines. There are others demonstrating shrewd ways of getting to know their customers better. Take the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) decision to opt for Foursquare as a mechanism to open rural and remote areas in Montenegro to tourists. This campaign, which focused on using geo-location services as a tool to drive tourists in the northern region, was based on solid data collection.
When it came to understanding the target audience, UNDP chose to rely on The National Tourism Organisation’s practice of collecting data on incoming tourists.
“That is where we got the information on the numbers of tourists and patterns of their behaviour once in the country,” says Milica Begovic Radojevic, UNDP Economy and Environment Cluster Leader in Montenegro.
“We understood the draw of the northern region well, because due to its low economic development, UNDP has worked with its population for years. Judging from the impression of the small percentage of people who visit the region, we were aware that the north has the New-Zealand kind of adventure/nature based tourism appeal,” says Radojevic.
Once you are sure about the quality of data, then your intuition or instinct can complement what you have gathered.
“Our hunch (from behavioural economics theory) was that the ease of obtaining the information (having it in your phone), novelty appeal (the stories-turned-tourism products on Foursquare are new stories, not found in the traditional marketing material on Montenegro), and an emotional-cum-adventure appeal would draw people for a one or two-day visits up north,” says Radojevic, adding that the 2013 season should show how successful UNDP’s method of drawing tourists north is proving to be.
Data collection is important, especially in an ongoing initiative like CRM. Having requisite resources or a sufficient budget can’t guarantee success in CRM data gathering. In fact CRM specialists, including those working at some of the established global hotel chains, still believe that direct marketing initiatives taken to reconnect with guests do not recognise the past association or previous stays. Such communication doesn’t inspire nor propose what guests might enjoy on their next getaway. Some believe the lack of ability to club guests accurately and work out a communication strategy tailored to desired behaviour remains a big hurdle.
Equally significant are the initiatives taken to collect, manage and segment data pertaining to guests and making them count by building something fruitful with it.
Most of the valuable customers for one supplier are also valuable customers for others. So it is vital to collect data from various sources, such as booking data, web analytics tools, online surveys and so on. In addition, each source becomes important. This can refine profiling and messaging. Effort should be made to incorporate psychographic and lifestyle data. Such insights are being used by a section of the industry to plan marketing initiatives including direct/e-mail campaigns. This paves the way for differentiation. Targeting messages to a particular guest or a segment is common, but the real test lies in going beyond common demographics and behaviour data to click with customers.
Making the most of the data
When it comes to collecting information directly from customers, it is important to work on data gathering approaches that extract meaningful information while taking the least amount of time,” says Celine Neulat, director loyalty and partner marketing, Anantara Hotels & Resorts.
“As a hotel company we have access to some of the most intimate information imaginable. The key has always been to make it worth the customer’s while.”
“Handing over your data these days is a big deal, and as a company we need to find ways to convince our guests to do this in a way that will be worthwhile for them. So far we have focused on collecting basic email addresses online, however, this does not tell you much about your customer,” says Neulat. “The key for us for now is to find a way to get people to complete their profiles and to gather more information in a way that will benefit customers by, for instance, by being able to provide additional stay preferences in advance.”
Hotel companies need to evolve by setting up insightful customer data to deliver a consistent guest experience.
“It boils down to customer behaviour and customer preferences. Being able to have access to that data is paramount,” says Neulat. “But it also involves a seamless integration between different systems–something that is still lacking in our industry.” A website can capture a plethora of customer data which could deliver great insights into the way a customer interacts with a brand, or about their preferences, but it might not translate to other systems.
According to Neulat, technology in hotels is still limited, and a lot of different sources of data need to be gone through in order to be able to deliver that consistent guest experience.
However there are success stories. “When I look at programmes like Hyatt that allow choices of benefits in their loyalty programmes or Emirates/Skywards offering flyer preferences beyond just window or aisle but also favourite drinks, I believe there is room for traveller preferences as technology evolves.
Similarly, customers have been able to decide on the type of content they want to receive, and dynamic content has made it possible to tailor the relevance of a simple newsletter to a customer’s interests.
In the end, customers will be more engaged with a company they can trust. That trust can be built by demonstrating that a company values the information provided by customers and strives to deliver a personalised experience.
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