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Beyond the boarding pass: a new era of personalised ‘open’ travel

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'De-siloed' travel data sets have the potential to deliver a personalised travel experience. / Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash.

Gearing up for another summer travel season means readying ourselves for the inevitable pain points associated with arranging and then conducting our trips. There are the evergreen niggles that will always remain top of the list, such as rising costs and safety concerns, but each year seems to bring with it more to think about; from weather phenomena – everything from ash clouds to snow storms - to drones closing airports and entire airlines going into administration overnight like Monarch, Primera Air or most recently, Flybmi.

Things seem set to get worse before they get better. 2019 is already doomed to be a year of chaos according to experts, if only for the sheer volume of travel that is expected to take place and the pressure this will put on services that we have already seen are not capable of taking the strain. Of course, Brexit is set to make things more complicated with passports, visas and exchange rates almost guaranteed to be affected.

The travel and hospitality industries have grown massively over the past decade but are set for still more growth. International air travel is set to almost double by 2036, there is more demand from emerging markets and tourism is enjoying a golden age.

At the same time travellers are becoming more and more demanding, insisting upon a seamless experience that is environmentally aware, personalised and swift. If you think travel is tough now, just imagine what it will be like for travel operators trying to deal with twice as many passengers who have higher expectations of the service than they currently have.

The personal touch

Technology has made consumers more engaged in travel, the world has become much smaller thanks to cheap flights to far flung destinations and inspiration from the likes of Instagram. As well as this, the likes of City Mapper and Uber have given consumers a premium level of on-demand service that they have come to see as standard. And technology and data will also be the engine that drives the innovations that will be necessary to both streamline the travel process but also begin to make it a more personalised and rewarding experience.

With personalisation reaching new heights across all sectors, brands are beginning to see a shift in consumers’ willingness to share details in a trusted space and to embrace this as a true data exchange. Where consumers once understood the trade-off to be a one-way street for brands to obtain our data with minimal reward, slowly but surely, they have begun to look for the payoff to come in the form of a personalised journey.

Travel brands have long been providing bespoke options to online consumers. Data exchange has nowadays become commonplace in helping to create welcome outcomes for consumers across sectors, from retail to banking, technology, health and all that exists in between. But travel was arguably ahead of the curve, with the early adoption of online travel booking as a point of ease for consumers.

What we have seen so far when it comes to efforts personalise product and service offerings is the merest scratch on the surface of what is possible and what will soon be commonplace. We are set for an age of true openness in travel, with the arrival of true data exchange – customers are looking for their data to both reflect and design their needs.

Open to new ideas

Such Open Travel refers to the process of gathering as diverse a portfolio of data sets about an individual traveller as possible, from as many sources as they are willing to share. It is very much about the single passenger viewpoint, leveraging the power of data and technology to make the whole thing more efficient and more relevant. Once these datasets have been collated into a single database, a complex system of algorithms is used to make the best experience possible.

The more a passenger shares, the more the algorithm has to work with and the better results will be achieved. It starts with the sharing of identity, with facial recognition systems tied to traveller databases. Concepts from the likes of Aruba Happy Flow, SITA Labs, WTTC, WEF and IATA are already being tested and rolled out to speed passengers through busy and crowded airport spaces. That, of course, is just the start. Next, imagine de-siloed travel datasets being joined together to create complex datasets that will facilitate the identification and delivery of context-sensitive, personalised services.

Realistically the options are endless - subject to getting the right customer permissions there is no reason why any dataset could not be added to the mix, empowering creative data scientists to offer context-sensitive, hyper-personalised travel services, based on an holistic understanding of travellers’ broader lives. Imagine arriving at your hotel to find your minibar had already been stocked only with organic, sugar-free options because your supermarket clubcard data revealed your eating habits.

This isn’t a wholly new concept, there have been murmurs of aspects of open travel throughout the industry for some time. However, the perfect storm of rising traveller numbers, more sophisticated traveller needs and gradually softening attitudes to data-sharing, will mean that it is a case of sooner rather than later for open travel.

Nick Chiarelli is head of trends at Unlimited Group

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