For travel, skies are clear for completely synchronized – and personalized – customer experiences, and it seems there’s no looking back. In a June interview with Emerce, CCO of global online travel agent Travix, Paul van Breugel, summed up our complex sector in its constant state of transition: “Everyone is a partner and a competitor in our industry.”
As one of our clients in this space, Travix is among numerous tenacious travel giants – from metasearchers and second parties to heritage airlines and digital hoteliers – deepening their footprint in a landscape of converging digital services, cross-platform experiences and real-time recommendations. But how does this really work for everyone, particularly when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes hold in May 2018?
It doesn’t work for everyone, and it won’t. As van Breugel emphasizes, this age of inflection won’t allow for uncertainty by any stretch: “We rely on our own strength, and that is selling flights at scale [as opposed to being a one-stop shop].”
Uncertainty, no – but flexibility, in both technology and organizational structure, will be crucial in balancing dueling demands between overarching customer experience and shifting parameters in data protection.
Partnering for customer-centricity
Look at Google Maps: its 2017 State of APIs report attests to the fact that successful ecosystems benefit from network effects, with over two million apps and websites leveraging its API every week, and having experienced a 300% growth in the past two years. This means that like the finance sector – where banks need to proactively prepare for the PSD2 regulation, which enforces a transparent tech landscape of open APIs – travel needs to take a sideways glance and choose its trusted partners, its own inherent value, and its tech, carefully. With companies such as Routehappy enriching data to help tell the full flight-booking story for airlines and metasearchers alike, open platforms are now piggybacking on each other in travel, too. In order to stitch together the ultimate journey, packed with customer interaction possibilities, disruptors are delivering based on elements ranging from greater price transparency to bringing ancillaries further into the limelight. And the list continues to shift and grow.
In this cycle of continuous change, travel brands will compete on customer-centricity, and only the most agile will win.
Moving machines and mindsets
But as open becomes the new normal for intermediaries and distributors, ‘closed’ – or protected – has to become a nuanced layer that can be applied or redacted in detail with technology, depending on data-sharing requirements between trusted partners.
This will be manifest in relationships between intermediaries and suppliers: as an online travel agent, you do want to strengthen channels of communication about ticket availability or flight inventory with an airline, but you don’t want to share your precious margin data.
When it comes to safeguarding customer data, you want to use comprehensive, cross-channel consent management tools on the marketing side to control who sees, processes, manages and delivers what.
On the brand side, you want to apply consent by design across every channel and platform – from owned, to paid, to partners, from online to offline – ensuring a consistent experience that can be optimized via customer interactions. To make every cross-channel journey one-to-one, rather than one-to-many, brands need a smarter, more secure identity management strategy across their marketing ecosystem, to know precisely who every customer is. This means being able to control where information is moved, for optimum relevance and compliance.
When it comes to tech, opportunities should be limitless for connecting selected platforms and partners through APIs. But in relation to the GDPR, they should also be limitless in terms of controlling the frequency and sequencing of information transfer.
Get a technology that does both
Creating a marketing ecosystem that balances data transparency, and data protection, doesn’t have to mean overhauling and starting from scratch. It should mean using overarching data management to stitch together existing systems, customer platforms and journeys in order to centralize them, while ensuring the technical ability to anticipate, and build, for future growth and partnerships.
And as travel organizations carve a new place in this space of constant change and role redefinition, it should also mean abandoning such myopic collective mindsets: as purveyors of technology, the greatest hurdle we see in making this paradox work is that marketers need to question – and redefine – what it means to create customer journeys in an age of flexible ecosystems.
Florent Coudyser, Industry Director (Travel), Relay42