During a recent webinar, Phocuswright’s Robert Cole gave a few tips for collecting customer data digitally and using it to personalize the travel experience.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—There are several ways to personalize the traveler experience, and most start with collecting the right information about the traveler. Hotels that know their guests—their motivations and needs—have an upper hand in personalizing their stays and, in making that experience positive, creating loyalty.
During a Phocuswright webinar titled “Engaging travelers: Personalization, analytics and process come of age,” Robert Cole, senior research analyst of lodging and leisure travel at Phocuswright, provided a few tips for gathering and using customer information.
Realize different travelers have different trip motivations
Before hoteliers can dive into gathering data, Cole said they need to realize each traveler has different reasons for traveling.
“Each of these trip motivations involves a very different traveler objective. … Knowing why the individual wants to travel is incredibly powerful information,” he said. “You also have to understand there’s a spectrum. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, or it might be a trip that a person really doesn’t want to take. … that has tremendous impact on what their objectives are for that trip and what they want to (achieve), and that’s how you’re going to measure success.”
Cole added that travelers have “an expansive array of potential motivation,” which is something hoteliers need to understand.
“Well, how do they start attacking this challenge of planning travel?” he said. “And the takeaway from (that) is simple: If a traveler is comfortable with one of these methods to research and plan travel, and you’re not present in that channel, you fundamentally don’t exist.
“Additionally, if you’re not providing content that helps the traveler accomplish the goal of that specific itinerary … your chances of closing the sale are greatly diminished.”
Create customer personas
To deal with different travelers’ needs, Cole suggested hoteliers create personas for each traveler type.
“I strongly encourage using personas because they’re really a representation of your best customers,” he said. “Who they are, what they do, what they value, why they booked with you, and give them a name, a photo, describe their personal story (and) how your product provides a solution to their needs. Make it specific.”
He said the key of all of this is to match the traveler to the ideal product and experience.
“And that’s where the whole industry is going,” he said. “So everybody … really is going to be faced with this challenge in the future.”
Collect good data
To start the process of personalizing the guest stay, hoteliers first need to make sure they’re collecting data that’s good, Cole said.
“If you don’t have good data … that’s your first challenge,” he said. “Fix your data first because bad data results in bad decisions, and the only good thing about bad decisions is that they make your replacement look really smart.”
There are plenty of platforms to collect data through—including business intelligence, digital, distribution and the sales office—and the “tech stack” continues to grow, Cole said.
“It’s getting more complex and all of these platforms are spitting out more information,” he said.
Look for explicit signals
There are explicit signals out there that hoteliers can utilize to learn about guests, such as platform data in the form of a browser or a mobile browser, Cole said. If you’re going the mobile browser route, it’s important to make sure you’ve optimized your browser for mobile use because “everyone knows what happens when you get on a phone (and look at) something that isn’t optimized for mobile,” Cole said. “It’s a horrible experience.”
While explicit signals are out there, Cole said they’re overlooked or not used by many companies.
“If you do have a profile and somebody’s logged in you have a lot of information about, you can start customizing their experience,” he said.
Cole mentioned that Expedia’s booking widget has a lot of information, such as where a traveler is flying from, where they’re going and the breakdown of the “composition of parties,” such as how many adults and children are going on this trip.
“That’s incredibly powerful information and I would hope that once you went to the next page, once you trigger that, (that) would start showing content of families enjoying New York City,” he said. “The number of travel industry groups that fail to do that and just give people generic pages coming back, that’s a tremendous missed opportunity.”
He said Library Hotels goes even deeper by asking questions like “What brings you to New York?” in a pre-arrival email.
“All of a sudden, you can start figuring out, ‘Oh, we can tailor this to their actual experience,’” Cole said.
Use big data
Obtaining customer information isn’t always about targeting a single traveler or a small group. Sometimes, companies can “evaluate behaviors of a larger number of customers” through big data, Cole said.
“And this is what big data does: It starts looking at sessions to say, ‘Oh, we can understand this multichannel thing because this is the same individual doing some things in different channels,’ and we can start aligning these touchpoints,” he said.
He said hoteliers and other groups can also look at data from people who have common characteristics, interests and demographics, then apply what they like to similar groups to see if it’s successful. Hoteliers can also look at the itinerary, product and what’s going on environmentally—including competitions, economics and politics in a certain area—to tailor the guest experience.
“The bottom line is really establishing relationships between these data elements to accurately predict the outcomes, and this will be a never-ending quest. It’s never over,” Cole said.
Cole suggested hoteliers deal with customer interactions as campaigns.
“If you can match the objectives of the traveler to the behaviors and evaluating the outcomes—it could be through sales or news registrations or reward program registrations, whatever those outcomes may be—it really comes down to focusing on what’s important, how you provide good content to support that outcome and then tests to continue or improve,” he said.