Personalization for the travel industry is undergoing a major evolution, and wayfarers and brands are already reaping the benefits. Gone are the days when the most personal element of a guest’s journey was picking their favorite candy bar from the hotel minibar. Now, travelers’ experiences can be deeply customized at every stage: from research, to booking, to interactions that take place years after the trip has ended.
Let’s dive into what personalization means for the travel industry, how your brand can approach it, and where it can be applied to your current strategy.
Personalization in the Travel Industry
Unsurprisingly, much of the change is being driven by developments in the digital landscape. According to Skift and Adobe’s 2018 Digital Transformation Report, digital travel sales are projected to reach $219 billion by 2021, with nearly half of these transactions coming from mobile devices. This is hardly surprising, considering the trend of growing mobile usage among consumers for browsing and transactions of all kinds. But other digital activities, such as social media usage, may be contributing to the bump in mobile bookings as well: a surge of attractive travel blogs, breathtaking Instagrams, and up-to-the-minute vacation updates on Facebook have heightened wanderlust for recreational travelers and, in turn, the demand for travel personalization. Nowadays, anyone can find a trove of inspiration—and spark an itch to pack their bags and go—every time they log onto their phones.
With an increasingly global economy, business travel is also set to increase. However, different strategies may come into play for brands catering to this distinct group. Unlike those traveling for leisure, who may be easily swayed by unique offers from diverse brands, business professionals tend to be more committed to travel loyalty programs—often staying at the same hotels and booking the same airlines in order to accumulate points and enjoy the perks that follow. For this market segment, whose focus is not on the thrill of the experience but rather on reliability and comfort, a smooth and consistent experience is of the utmost importance. Personalization can help brands be smarter in how they serve their business travelers so that they can win a loyal lifelong (or at least career-long) customer.
Why Personalization Can Make or Break a Travel Brand
Older generations may still be adjusting to booking online instead of through an agent, but Millennial and Generation Z consumers are already miles ahead, frequently researching and purchasing tickets right from their phones. That means that for the largest and most lucrative market segments, there are plenty of opportunities to gather customer data for personalization at every stage of the (digital and physical) journey. Brands must take advantage of that: it’s possible to customize experiences from the beginning of the research mode to the period months or years later when the customer is reminiscing about their last trip and looking to book another one.
All modern brands should recognize the importance of personalization for providing high-quality customer experiences, but it’s especially important for the travel industry. Travel experiences feel high-stakes for the customer: the details truly matter when they are navigating the vulnerabilities of being far from home. Every time people travel, they entrust their personal safety and the security of their possessions to the brands they choose to travel with. For leisure travelers, they’ve invested their hard-earned money and vacation time on a trip that they hope will be unforgettable. For business travelers, a career-making presentation may be on the line. Even small mishaps can feel catastrophic when away from home—but a spectacular and successful trip can stay with the traveler for the rest of their life if the brand truly nails the experience.
Personalization can help a customer find the trip that’s right for them, make a reservation with ease, prepare for their trip, and experience a hassle-free journey. By using customer data such as location, demographics, purchase history, and in-session behavior, brands can make every step of the process smoother and more enjoyable for the consumer while building a lasting relationship.
Personalization and Customer Loyalty
Personalization can help travel brands tailor every stage of the buying process and the journey itself so that the customer feels accommodated and welcomed. An often overlooked, but extremely important, stage of the customer journey is everything that takes place after purchase—and even after the trip.
That is when the opportunity arises to build a lasting relationship with the customer that will convince them to return for many future trips and spread the word to their networks. And personalization plays a key role in that transition from one-time-customer to loyalist by enabling brands to use customer data to tailor carefully timed messages and offers.
By following up after the trip to collect feedback and remind customers of the highlights of their experience, and then checking in after some time has passed with personalized offers, customers will feel like a valued member of the brand’s community instead of just a transaction in a database.
How to Apply Travel Personalization
Personalization is essential for travel at every stage of the customer journey: from enabling data collection, to providing a smooth purchase experience and a memorable trip, personalization can help travel brands gain and keep customers for life.
Travel personalization requires a lot of data to be collected from multiple channels. The goal is to know what your customer wants out of a trip before they’ve even been fully filled out their information. The best way to add convenience and reduce the complications of decision making throughout the process is to use dynamic forms. Dynamic forms can be pre-filled with dates, destinations, and room types that a customer has been frequently searching. While dynamic forms may not seem to be impactful, they are a huge link in the customer’s journey.
Example: P&O Cruises
UK luxury cruising brand P&O cruises found that while mobile accounted for 30 percent of all digital traffic, it was not producing much revenue for the company. Their mobile booking process at the time was slow and took up to 30 minutes to finish. P&O decided to use Montetate Test & Segment to optimize their mobile presence and reduce steps in the booking process. After implementing forms with pre-populated fields, the brand saw their mobile conversion rate grow by 7.8 percent, which increased revenues to show an annualized 12x ROI.
There is a waiting period between the purchase of tickets or a room and the actual date of arrival. This is your brand’s chance to guide the customer experience in the right direction by providing a seamless, relevant flow of information. Whether you’re using on-site personalization, a mobile app to continuously encourage customers to engage, or even social posts, you’re laying the groundwork needed to create a loyal customer.
Once the customer arrives at their destination, your brand should be using their data to tailor the on-premises experience. Simple touches make customers feel right at home, even when they’ve just arrived from halfway across the globe. A bottle of champagne for a couple’s anniversary, a voucher for dinner at the hotel restaurant after a long day of meetings, chocolate covered strawberries for a milestone birthday, or even a few board games in the room to entertain the kids all go a long way. All of this can be based on information collected earlier in the booking phase. Travel personalization allows you to take what you know about a person and apply it right in the moment, and it often has a huge payoff for both parties.
Example: Disney World Resorts
Disney World Resorts has done an incredible job at building an omnichannel experience for guests through their My Disney Experience app. When you create an account with Disney, your dinner reservations, ride passes, character meet and greets, and more can all be accessed from a single app. Guests can fully map out their stay right from their phones, and Disney can stay engaged with them throughout their trip. Plus, guests can link their tickets to a wristband, so that they can float around the parks without being held up at pesky ticket booths.
Moving Forward in the Travel Industry
The travel industry is changing, and guests are searching for a different way to get from point A to point B. Customized, convenient interactions are important, and there is plenty of research to back that up. To keep up with the times and demand, take a look inward to see what aspects of your current travel personalization strategy could use an update. You’re not only optimizing your brand, you’re also optimizing memories.