As travel companies increasingly look to data to guide business decisions, Olivier Ponti, vice president insights at ForwardKeys, lays out the path between big data and big results
Data is an essential part of the professionalisation process we currently see at work in the travel business. In the past years, a lot of progress has been made across the whole sector, with an increasing number of organisations understanding the need to switch from guts-based to data-based decisions. However, there is still a long way to go. This is unfortunate because, like any other businesses, travel companies and DMOs require insights to make the right strategic and tactical choices. They also need to monitor the impact of these choices so that they can build on what works and discard what doesn’t.
Sieving through a sea of data
At the most basic level, the data which is relevant to you is the data that your organisation can use to act. My piece of advice would thus be to start by having a clear picture of what a business can do, and then to invest in data which can help this particular business do it better. In other words: focus, get the right people on board to analyse your data and start doing something with it.
Tourism Australia provides a good example of a company looking beyond the data to get actionable insights. As the government agency responsible for attracting international visitors to Australia, Tourism Australia runs a year-round programme of marketing activity internationally to increase the economic benefits generated by tourism. It is therefore particularly keen on monitoring both the effectiveness of its activities as well as the direct impact of external factors and events in its key markets. Tourism Australia uses data for various sources and in different ways to monitor and measure the performance of the sector.
Visitor arrivals in the country’s airports are an excellent indicator of how the international visitation is tracking and are used by Tourism Australia as the most immediate guide on overall arrivals performance as well as that of specific markets, given the figures can be available near real time.
Tourism Australia also uses airline data such as bookings to enable them to anticipate future visitor flows. This proves particularly helpful for peak seasons like the Lunar New Year for example, when Australian cities like Sydney or Melbourne know they can expect a surge of Chinese visitors but need to quantify the increase to elaborate an appropriate response. Based on the status of airline bookings during the key period prior to the Lunar New Year, Tourism Australia decides whether to intensify marketing in China or shift the focus instead on dispersal strategies to encourage Chinese visitation to destinations in Australia where there is more capacity.
The insights made possible by airline data are all the more useful, particularly forward bookings, to shed light on future opportunities and challenges so that activities can be adapted accordingly.
Next step to actionable insights
To me, this is clearly not a technical issue: the data is there and so are the tools to mine it. What is most needed is a more resolute move, on the part of travel businesses, to tap into these new resources and be ready to accept that the way they work will change dramatically.
From the moment you stop looking at past figures and start focussing on real-time data or even predictive analytics, you are compelled to put a premium on action. Is my campaign producing the expected results? Do I need to change anything underway? What is the new challenge my business will face and how do I prepare for this? This is very different indeed from using research to justify past choices and, quite frankly, it is also much more exciting.