Personalization is probably the most talked-about topic in the airline industry today. Always-connected travelers who are accustomed to receiving personalized offers from retailers and other technology companies now expect the same from airlines. And airlines, intent upon pleasing their customers, are looking for the best technologies and processes to offer a personalized experience with every journey. Recently I participated in a panel at the IATA Aviation Day in Bogota, along with representatives from other companies in the travel industry. Below are some key ideas we discussed.
Why and how is trip personalization so important?
Understanding the “why” is critical. The personalization efforts are linked to the need to individualize an industry of masses on which proximity is a must. Knowing travelers’ needs and requirements is now essential. Understanding travelers’ key information – including demographics and shopping behaviors – is only half the equation, however. Forming relationships is the other half. The hotel concierge who remembers your name … the store clerk who knows your favorite colors … and the restaurant host who saves your special table. These types of gestures build relationships and keep customers coming back. Airlines may not be there yet, but they recognize the importance, and are implementing technologies and processes to move in that direction.
The “how” is fundamentally related to the traveler’s own objectives. For example, the traveler wants to be identified, remembered and rewarded for his/her particular needs, likes and preferences, as well as things he/she does not like or want … such as a window (if he/she really prefers aisle) seat or boarding in the last group.
What does the traveler actually want?
The traveler wants to be guaranteed consistency throughout his travel experience, which fosters loyalty. Frequent flyers expect the same type of service and attention not only when they travel, but also when they take a flight with a partner airline, or when they have a disruption. During these “moments of truth,” travelers, especially loyal ones, expect to be treated specially and recognized for their loyalty.
Today’s travelers expect a seamless journey throughout their trip. In many cases, it comes down to communication: travelers want to be proactively informed if their flight is delayed, whether they’ll make their connection, and if their luggage is there when they land. Personalization isn’t just experienced the moment the traveler books the trip. It occurs throughout the journey: during the inspiration phase … through the stressful trek through the airport … during uncomfortable moments of disruption … on the actual plane ride … and everything that happens after the plane lands and the traveler arrives at their destination.
How can the travel industry respond?
Airlines have an opportunity to use technology to process the data they possess about their travelers, and then generate actionable insights that result in better journeys and more satisfied travelers. The whole experience is a long journey that requires travel sellers and providers to deliver on our promise to offer personalized attention from beginning to end. Personalization is absolutely critical to ensure we make the entire experience seamless, so our travelers will buy from us over and over.
Two personalization challenges facing the travel industry
Challenge 1: The amount of information, structured and unstructured, that airlines need to gather, store and process to provide a personalized experience.
The airlines do possess a significant amount of information about each traveler. Yet only recently have they begun to leverage new technologies and processes to make sense of that data, merge it all together, and create memorable journeys that reflect how and why travelers travel.
Many new technologies like NDC, Dynamic Pricing and Rich Content are coming into play. These technologies are intended to facilitate personalization, yet will require tremendous effort on the airlines’ part to implement and establish appropriate processes.
Challenge 2: The need to gain a deeper understanding of traveling customers while maintaining their privacy, respecting regulations, and guaranteeing their security.
The airline industry is highly regulated, and privacy and security laws have increased in recent years, making the job of targeting each traveler as a unique individual rather difficult.
Personalization requires a deeper understanding of customers: how their behaviors change over time, reasons why they travel, and their preferences when traveling for business or pleasure, alone or with family. Appropriate segmentation also helps determine how best to communicate with each client group, when, and how frequently. All of this requires very sophisticated technology and processes that the airlines are just starting to establish.
How Amadeus helps travel providers enable personalization
Amadeus is evolving to offer a travel platform created on open systems, using technology in an intelligent way, integrating new interfaces and architecture. In this platform, we are integrating all content – air, hotels, cars and insurance – from all sources to be distributed through any channel. This will allow better comparison in a uniform, transparent way through the Amadeus Travel Platform. We are also working closely with IATA to standardize the NDC protocol, to serve all travelers in a quick, simple and efficient manner.
In summary, personalization is here to stay. Airlines must continue the journey to provide customized offers to travelers by intelligently pricing, positioning and promoting their products and services so their offers target individual customer needs. Although customized offers are more complex than the current way of selling, the benefits for both airlines and travelers can be significant. Today, thanks to the technology and knowledge already available in the industry, offering personalization is no longer a dream. It’s possible and necessary to succeed.