Comment: Let’s get personal

What is the best way to boost conversion, asks Teletext Holidays chairman Steve Endacott – empower consumers to tailor search or personalise offerings?

The recent PhocusWright Europe conference in Dublin reminded me again of the importance of getting my head out of the UK travel sector and focusing on the evolution of online travel and the impact of mobile across the world.

Like many in senior management, I am well aware of the need to think “mobile first”, but struggle to put this into practice as I simply do not use my mobile in the same way younger generations do.

I would challenge readers to answer the following questions truthfully:

  • Do you look at your company website primarily via your mobile phone rather than a desktop?
  • Can you plug your mobile into a TV or projector to demonstrate how the site operates on a mobile?

Until returning from the conference last week I have to confess my answer was a definite no to both, but that has already changed.

The debate about ‘personalisation’ and why travel lags so far behind services like Netflix and Amazon, which make suggestions based on the profile the customer generates by previous viewing or buying behaviour (you watched X so you might like Y) was another interesting aspect of the conference.

PhocusWright research highlighted the fact that personalisation is harder in travel because travel is inherently social, with a customer’s behaviour and requirements changing markedly depending on who they travel with.

The average traveller takes 3.4 trips a year and travels with other people 81% of the time, but within this they may be travelling as a couple, family or with friends.

Their behaviour when travelling with these different groups is markedly different. The average duration of a family trip is nine days with an average spend of £1,052, compared to five days and £702 when with friends.

Not surprisingly, average spending drops lower to £406 when travellers are on their own, since this often includes visits to friends and family.

Behaviour also varies within the family bracket as kids grow older, with only 4% of families with children under four willing to consider “private accommodation”, but this rises to 19% when the kids are 5-18.

Once you start thinking about your own personal travel habits and how they vary due to the requirements of your kids, the point really hits home.

So how can a travel company personalise offers without knowing whom you are travelling with?

The answer is that you probably can’t on the first visit to a site. But the average customer comes back three times before booking, so there is no excuse for not personalising home pages for returning customers.

Most decent travel sites offer basic levels of personalisation, such as ‘cookied’ search criteria and access to previous searches, but few are yet personalising their ‘special offers’ to reflect what other customers ‘like you’ have found.

However, the dramatic reduction in computing hardware and storage costs means the exploitation of Big Data from your own site is now a must and likely to shape developments in the next few years.

If personalisation is difficult with first-time visitors, perhaps travel companies should focus more on ‘empowerment’ and allow customers to tailor searches to meet their varying needs, depending on whom they are travelling with?

For example, when travelling with the family, access to kids’ clubs, Wi-Fi, Sky TV and two bedrooms or adjoining rooms are likely to be key search or filter criteria.

So why not offer different searches for families, couples or customers travelling with friends.

The obvious downside is clutter and complexity on the home page. Changing the searches behind the scenes, after the customer has specified his party type, may be a cleaner route particular when using limited mobile screen space.

Another area that greatly interests me is ‘personalising the crowd’ via tagging searches of people with similar party types e.g. families with three kids.

This allows companies to highlight popular choices for ‘people like me’, whose kids do not fit neatly into the standard holiday room configurations.

There are many such classifications, which can be explored using big data tools.

I am confident travel will quickly get itself on the personalisation ladder and start making finding the right holiday at the right price easier. Maybe we are not so far behind.

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