Data is arguably tomorrow’s most valuable resource. It gives us unprecedented access to copious amounts of information and insights, all with the potential to define trends and reshape thinking. It also has the potential to turn every industry on its head by unlocking new efficiencies, new business intelligence, and new ways of working.
Unsurprisingly, one industry that is geared to make the most of big data and its outputs, is travel. There’s a data trail left by reservations, enquiries, itineraries, hotels, rental cars, trains, airlines, fare charts, and customer feedback, to name a few. But it goes beyond that: travellers are also leaving a data footprint when they’re researching, planning, booking, searching, and comparing prices.
This data helps agents and travel bookers gain valuable insight into the most cost effective ways to book trips. Using consumer data helps agents give personalised advice to their customers, ultimately enabling them to stay ahead of, and take advantage of, the next market trends. The travel businesses that are going to succeed in the future are those that look at innovative ways to plug into this data to provide more targeted and profitable services and products.
The door to data is going to continue to swing open as mobile technologies further penetrate the travel industry. Particularly once data mining, storage, and visualisation all become cheaper and more accessible to businesses. Wearables are already helping influence the travel industry; and advanced analytics and augmented reality (powered by data) are set to revolutionise every part of the travel process.
But to really unlock the value of data, you’ve got to know how and when to best utilise it.
Investing in data upfront ensures that it returns dividends and gives your team confidence. A key part of this process is maintaining the quality of your data. You must have a solid validation process in place. This essentially involves checking your data through third parties and culling anything that looks or feels dirty.
This is vital, as you’ve got to be critical, and have full confidence in what you’re working with to stand by insights. If you don’t understand your data before trying to analyse it, you’re likely going to influence your interpretation with biases, or simply you or your staff won’t know where to start looking.
Everyone has a different way of managing data, but having labels and parameters from the outset is critical if you are to make of use of insights correctly. You’ve got to be comparing apples with apples if you are to interpret what’s being said in a useful way. The way that you manage your data will also help you see through the numbers to tie back to the business objectives.
Benchmarking is key to knowing where you data stands. Look at it for transparency, compare it to databases and historical data. For example, one airline might call their premium seats business class, while another says premium gold. Despite being technically the same offering, they will provide two results and disrupt your data pool. Benchmarking enables you to track discrepancies in an easier manner.
Take your team on the journey with you as well — this includes suppliers, this way everyone is aligned on what you’re looking at from day one. If you’re all on the same journey, singing from the same hymn sheet, those unintentional, but inherent, biases will be limited.
Data is complex, and difficult for many people to digest. Take your data and visualise it in meaningful ways to help others understand how you’ve made your way to whatever data-driven business decision you’ve made.
Don’t be afraid to add every minute bit of detail. A solid report should paint the whole picture, you want a report that shows the journey from a to z, even the more difficult parts of your task. I’d argue fervently against including just grabs of data, or small sections of your story. These grabs and tidbits create inconsistency, and paint only half a picture, this serves no one.
Keeping your data secure needs to be of highest priority for any travel business. A good dataset can be a competitive advantage for your business versus your competitor. You want to keep your market-leading secrets safe, if you don’t your whole business strategy can be compromised. Take, for example, data on where the top five execs in your organisation are frequently travelling to. If anybody at a competing business got hold of this information, they could begin to draw lines between the executives and the locations and build out an idea as to your future business strategy. Maybe you’re visiting these particular places to set up a new office, create a new strategic partnership, or secure an elusive client?
The way to protect your data? Encrypt your data and educate your employees of the value of data so that they are vigilant in keeping it safe.
The biggest businesses in the world are already driven by data, and this isn’t going to change anytime soon. If you’re going to grow tomorrow, you need to know how and why to manage your data now.
About the author
David Fastuca is the CMO and co-founder of Travelport Locomote, a corporate travel management platform.