Personalization: Are We There Yet?

Editorial Note: Alix Argüelles (Vice President, Online Travel Group at Amadeus North America) was chosen as a co-moderator guiding the “Search/Aggregation Roundtable” at the Travel Disruption Summit, a one-day symposium bringing together thought leaders in the travel industry to New York City on May 23rd. During the event, participants discussed the opportunities for innovation at each phase of a traveler’s experience, including the way travel inventory is sorted and discovered by the end user.

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Roundtable discussion around the Search/Aggregation phase of the traveler’s experience

At Voyager HQ’s Travel Disruption Summit, I was fortunate enough to be able to co-moderate the Roundtable discussion on travel in the Search and Aggregation phase. As you might imagine, this was a heated discussion covering many topics - but the resounding commonality was that personalization is king!

Great - so we all agree that when the search results are more relevant, conversion is higher. This is not a new concept, but one that the travel industry continues to have hard time implementing.

You might be thinking to yourself “Why is this difficult with all the data out there? I mean everyone has access to Facebook data, right?”

Wrong - in fact, in some cases there is almost too much data available. We have access to so much information, it’s difficult to determine what is truly relevant to consumers and when. For example: just because you bought a luxury item once doesn’t mean you will be flying first class the rest of your life. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you were spoiling yourself for the first time ever! There are simply too many variables to consider.

The ‘why’ for travelers can be just as important as the ‘what’ or the ‘when’. I learned a new term that day: attitudinal data. Attitudinal is defined as “relating to, based on, or expressive of personal attitudes or feelings.” So in my own words, it is the ‘why’. Gathering this information in a meaningful way is the most difficult aspect of big data collection.

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At Amadeus, we have been working on data-driven search products for many years. One of the features of our flagship shopping product, Master Pricer, is Value Search. Value Search includes several prebuilt personas to help personalize the search results. One such persona is the “family traveler.” If a shopping request is done for two adults and one/two children it’s a pretty good guess that this is a family traveling together. We automatically take this into account and put a higher value on certain characteristics of the flights in our shopping algorithm. There is plenty more that goes into this of course, which is proprietary, but for some customers that have been using Value Search, they have seen an increase in conversion of up to 16%.

Although this is a good start, we have a lot more work to do and are continuously analyzing and adapting the information we have in our system to evolve the personalization opportunities for our customers — and thus all travelers (did you know that Amadeus touches about 90% of all trips booked in one way or another?)

Our roundtable discussion in many ways mirrored discussions we have at Amadeus internally, and those that travel companies of all sizes have every day. How does the industry get personalization right? We know there is a need, a desire and a lot of effort and investment in utilizing data to improve personalization efforts, but we have to also be sure to know why we are doing it. One rule of thumb: personalization has to be valuable to the user first and foremost, and to the company implementing it secondarily. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should…unless it is flawless.

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