February 20, 2018, by Gilad Berenstein, CEO of Utrip
To the casual observer, it may seem like travel companies are at the cutting edge of technology. There are lots of travel sites where you can check airfares and book trips. Compared to other industries, however, travel is actually quite limited.
Despite the many sites where people can look up flights, hotels, and destinations, there still isn't nearly as much personalization as you have when searching on Amazon or Netflix, to use just a couple of examples. Let's take a look at the current limitations of travel technology and how it could do much better.
How the Travel Industry is Lagging Behind
Sites such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Kayak, and many others provide comprehensive information for people who want to travel anywhere in the world. However, these sites are not using the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Searching on a major travel site is really like using a slightly more specialized version of a basic search engine by today’s standards. Doing a typical search for flights or hotels, you get a long list of choices. While you can usually filter certain specifications (e.g. price range and amenities for hotels), the sites don't provide much in the way of personalization. When you visit TripAdvisor, for example, the site recognizes returning users, but each time you do a search, you're basically starting from square one. You don't have access to nearly the same level of personalization that you'd find on other consumer sites.
Consider how Netflix targets its customers. You get TV and movie recommendations based on your viewing history, taking into account factors such as genre, topics and actors. Music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora similarly offer advanced personalization. Amazon does this on an even larger scale with its related products and other recommendations. Both Netflix and Amazon frequently send out emails recommending items based on customer preferences.
There's no reason travel companies can't follow their examples. Consider all of the factors that contribute to a traveler’s selections:
- Demographics - the age, gender, location and other basic data about a traveler
- Budget - budget, luxury or mid-range traveler
- Destinations – does a traveler prefer beach vacations, cruises, European capitals, national parks, etc.
- Flight Preferences - includes seating, cabin classes, checked baggage, meals and other options
- On-the-Ground Activities - specialized tours, sports, shopping, food and types of attractions
Some of the larger sites such as TripAdvisor do offer some degree of personalization. However, much of the focus is on building a community of users who post reviews. While reviews are certainly useful, they only matter when covering properly targeted items. For example, if a traveler is looking for a hotel room for under $150 per night, he/she won't care about reviewers raving about a luxury room that costs $300.
Hotel Sites vs. Airbnb
It's worth pondering why Airbnb was able to so quickly pose such a serious challenge to the hotel industry. Some travelers simply prefer the experience of staying in someone's home as opposed to a hotel room. This, however, is only part of the picture. Airbnb has also successfully created a convenient and user-friendly site that gives searchers personalized and location-based results. Airbnb excels at featuring not only rooms but locations and experiences. In addition to user-friendly settings for factors such as price range, neighborhoods and amenities, the site also recommends customized personal experiences. Users also receive targeted emails based on recent trips and searches. The hotel industry can learn a lot from Airbnb. The same is true for large travel sites that provide lots of choices but insufficient curation.
Travel Companies Need to Fully Embrace the Digital Age
In some ways, the travel industry is lagging behind when it comes to offering customers the kind of personalized choices they can obtain when shopping for many other items online. When you search for a smartphone, a book, a pair of running shoes or any other product or service, you're often treated like an individual with specific needs and preferences. With travel, however, searchers are more likely to be stuck with generic lists of attractions or an endless number of search results for hotels or flights. Travel sites will enjoy greater success when they learn to take advantage of the latest technology and offer users more personalized services.