A look at some clever uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in travel and how it is already helping travel marketers overcome some of the biggest problems they’re currently facing in the industry.
Last year, WBR Insights and Sojern published a study, entitled How Travel Marketers are Activating Digital Advertising in 2021. In one of the key insights, 82% of travel marketers rated AI and machine learning (ML) as high priority or very high priority in personalising experience for customers.
Travel marketers in the EU listed machine learning and artificial intelligence as the top ad tech to increase usage the most in 2021/22.
AI technology remains a work in progress but travel companies ae already using it to solve a variety of marketing problems.
The generational shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials has been particularly challenging, compounded by rapid advances in technology. With the whole world connected and travel trends changing faster than ever, it’s increasingly difficult for brands to keep up with travellers’ constantly-changing demands.
At the same time, we have a constant shift in booking habits with new platforms emerging all the time and giants like Google and Airbnb cornering more of the market for themselves.
In November 2021, Airbnb’s market cap peaked at over $200 billion (~£150bn), more than the combined caps of the world’s top hotel chains: Marriot, Hilton, IGH, Wyndham, Chice, Hyatt and Accor.
In 2019, Vice President of Creative at Guinness World Records, Paul O’Neill, told TravelPulse that companies would soon have to compete with the likes of Amazon, too.
“Amazon is already selling theater[sic] tickets. That’s the first move in that direction. If they aren’t selling hotel rooms in the future, I’d be surprised.” – Paul O’Neill, Vice President of Creative at Guinness World Records
By late 2020, Amazon launched Amazon Explore, a platform designed to help travellers find “experiences” with local hosts in their travel location – and, of course, spend some money shopping while they explore.
With travel trends developing so quickly, brands can’t afford to wait until things change to react. They need to spot new trends as they emerge or even predict them before they catch on and adapt their marketing efforts accordingly.
Earlier this year, travel management platform CWT teamed up with AI predictive analytics company ZYTLYN Technologies in a pilot initiative to “accurately predict travel demand in near real-time, whilst complex, fluid contextual factors such as COVID are at play.”
Prior to Covid-19, Chinese tourists were by far the biggest spenders overseas, becoming a major driving force behind the industry. In 2018, Chinese nationals made almost 150 million trips overseas – an increase of more than 1,300% since 2001.
However, China’s zero-Covid tactics and ongoing concerns about international travel drained the world’s biggest source of travel revenue.
As the world tentatively emerges from the worst of the pandemic, uncertainty remains and global tensions place further strain on travel prospects. Pre-Covid data loses much of its value because we’re living in a new world with different priorities – no matter how much we want to get back to “normal”.
Travel marketers need to adopt a more predictive approach to analytics to adapt to external influences faster – economic shifts, geopolitical developments, etc.
ADARA is a predictive travel intelligence platform that uses AI to monitor and predict travel trends, including indirect influences that can have a major impact on travel numbers: trade disputes, political uncertainty, conflicts, natural disasters, economic downturns or major sporting events like the Rugby World Cup currently taking place in Japan.
If travel brands can understand how and when such events are going to impact crucial numbers, they can rethink and reassign budgets, adapt messages and potentially target new audiences.
According to Global Web Index’s Travel intentions in 2021 report, the state of the Covid-19 pandemic was unsurprisingly the top concern among US and UK travellers planning to take an international holiday in the immediate future.
While confidence is growing (2 in 3 Europeans are planning to take a trip in the first half of 2022) issues remain – such as the convoluted process of getting through airports ahead of flights.
Luckily, for these travellers, AI is already being used by airports and airlines to improve the experience of travelling. Today’s smarter breed of check-in counters and security scanners are making it safer and faster for travellers to catch their flights, reducing the amount of time people need to spend at airports.
At the end of 2021, Gatwick airport announced plans to implement an AI Passenger Predictability system powered by Veovo to help the airport deal with fluctuating traveller numbers.
Airports and airlines aren’t the only travel businesses that need to use AI to solve practical travel problems. Every travel brand should be collecting customer feedback and tapping into third-party data to pinpoint their target audiences’ biggest problems on the move. These insights will allow you to actively solve these problems in your own services (if possible), create lead generation content that addresses them and even personalise your marketing messages for individuals, based on their unique travel concerns.
In Switchfly’s study, Resetting the quest for travel loyalty in 2020, 83% of travel companies reported that attracting new customers and retaining existing ones were their primary challenges. In the same study, 46% said loyalty programmes were their top strategy for the year ahead but 2021 insights from PhocusWire suggest miles and points can’t buy loyalty anymore.
We’ve looked at how to use AI in travel to build customer loyalty on this blog before and one of the most important strategies for the industry right now is hyper-personalisation.
Hyper-personalisation uses artificial intelligence to gain insights from your own customer data and third-party data sources, allowing algorithms to make accurate predictions about what your existing leads and customers need from you in the future. So, instead of simply targeting all under-40s with generic Millennial marketing campaigns, you can determine which users really care about Instagrammable locations, sustainable travel or simply lounging on the beach for a couple of weeks.
Artificial intelligence allows you to break past generic assumptions (eg: all parents want child-friendly holidays, backpackers don’t spend big, honeymooners want romance, etc.) and pinpoint the unique interests of individuals. This way, you can target those couples looking for a more active honeymoon, the “glampackers” spending big on their nomad journeys and the parents leaving their kids with the folks for a holiday with no children in sight (or earshot).
Winning these customers requires highly-relevant messages and to turn these travellers into regular customers, you need to be equally relevant when those same parents are looking for a family holiday and that couple are in the mood for something more romantic.
According to research carried out by Redpoint Global, 73% of travellers “expect personalised, real-time messaging to feel safe and comfortable this year” yet 67% say they were frustrated by messaging from the travel industry during the pandemic.
Top complaints include receiving messages during times when they were unable to travel due to restrictions or personal circumstances or seeing irrelevant messages. This highlights the importance of delivering personalised experiences to individual travellers throughout the planning, travel and post-booking stages to maximise satisfaction and customer loyalty.
Technology has been a major disruptor for the travel industry in recent decades but the only viable solution for modern travel brands is to use this same technology to overcome new challenges. Artificial intelligence is empowering brands of all sizes to leverage big data like major players, creating a more level playing field. In fact, smaller brands who are able to react and adapt to the latest trends could have the advantage and artificial intelligence can deliver the insights you need to adapt your brand as trends develop – or even predict them and adapt before they even happen.
We have a lot of experience in the travel industry so if you need help with your digital marketing campaigns, contact us on 02392 830281 or fill in the form below and we’ll call you.
Chris is Managing Director at Vertical Leap and has over 25 years' experience in sales and marketing. He is a keynote speaker and frequent blogger, with a particular interest in intelligent automation and data analytics. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar and is a stage manager at the Victorious Festival.
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