Big Data: Aspirin for Travelers’ Headaches

March 22, 2013
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Depending on where you are, the words “travel” and “good customer experience” don’t necessarily belong in the same sentence. Big data is poised to change all that.

Depending on where you are, the words “travel” and “good customer experience” don’t necessarily belong in the same sentence. Big data is poised to change all that.

According to a 2012 ComScore report, travel transactions make up one third of all e-commerce revenue. Between buying airline tickets, cruises, booking hotels, day trips and everything else travelers do, there’s a wealth of consumer information available. Yet 92 percent of people who visit a travel website don’t buy anything, according to this report. There’s a big gap between the travel world’s big data capabilities and its execution. 

big data travel solutionsWhat’s the Industry Doing With It? 

The next logical step is to enhance the customer experience, generally through personalization. While this is still a work-in-progress for industry players, everyone has their own ideas on how to improve by using big data.

Airlines 

From delays to strikes to exploding batteries, the airline industry isn’t exactly a well-greased wheel. What they do have working in their favor is half a terabyte of data per flight, according to Virgin Atlantic IT Director David Bulman in this Kognitio interview. Employees and customers aren’t the only data generators, Bulman says. Cargo containers and the parts of the plane itself, including the engine to the landing gear, will all feed data into the cloud. Virgin Atlantic and other airlines will have the opportunity to use that granular data to optimize their airplanes, their baggage operations and—though this might be a stretch for some airlines—their customer service as well.

Trip Planning

The newest batch of trip planning sites is geared towards personalization. Why hunt for a hotel yourself if the travel website can generate smart recommendations based on your previous travel patterns and specific desires? Rather than receiving the sort-by-price (or stars, or ratings) list that’s common today, you’ll see a list of recommendations that are more refined to your unique tastes (four-star hotels located on hilltops in coastal cities, say).

The process of finding the best deal on a hotel is getting ever more refined with big data, too. Apps like Guestmob, for example, help hotels time their discounts to a tee.

For a complete list of travel apps (mostly pre-travel), see this excellent CNN list.

Social Travel

The process of meeting, following and finding new friends is about to go 3-D. That is, apps are using big data to enable us to find real people in real-time. You’ll be able to see where your friends have been, which photos they took there, where they’re going, even friends you haven’t met yet (people with common interests who are nearby). 

Souvenirs and Dining

Thanks to geo-locational technologies like geo-fencing, your phone can send you push notifications when you’re in the general vicinity of an establishment with a coupon or check-in offer, or somewhere you’ve been before or might like to go. You can see whether an establishment has sanitation issues and where to go to the bathroom.

Tours

We’re already in the era of Rent-a-Friend and mobile, crowdsourced tour guides and real-time deal notifications. The next step here, again, is personalization. Based on who you are and what you want—say, a single guy looking for the fastest way to get to a particular city’s hottest bar to find a date, but she has to be vegan—customized apps will be able to spit out the information you need on-demand.

Traveling in a Wired World

Travel, like many other aspects of our lives, is on the brink of major change due to big data. You’ll be able to find deals, destinations and people more quickly. What are you looking forward to when big data really starts to take a hold of the industry?