AI driving personalization in travel buying

Personalization is the art of tailoring products, services and their delivery to individuals. In the age of digitalization, it takes websites to a new state of direct engagement with the visitor – responding to each individual’s interactions to understand their intent and interests to present the most relevant offers.

In the travel sector, personalization allows businesses to significantly enhance the customer’s shopping experience, directly appealing to their search requirements, based on their distinct profile. Amongst a plethora of travel products available, travelers want to be able to easily and quickly find the product most suited to them, with 40 percent of consumers found to leave websites after being overwhelmed by options.

The ‘paradox of choice’ applies perhaps more to travel than it does other online businesses due to the range of products and options involved in a travel purchase. A depth of offering attracts potential customers, but can also overwhelm them. Reducing choices has been found to increase conversions, but simply removing products may not help you to reach your commercial goals. True customer intimacy is the way forward, with 70 percent of consumers stating “connected processes – such as contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions – are very important” in securing their booking.

Personalization is more than providing an intimate customer experience: it meets commercial goals such as increased customer loyalty and higher booking values. At a time when every booking counts, travel providers need to address their personalization strategy and how they match their products to the right buyer.

Visitor intent – the why behind the what

Often considered the great unknown, travel marketers have spent their time understanding traveller intent by analyzing historical booking data and the customer journey, relying on consumer surveys to get to the heart of the ‘why’.

It’s time to ditch the surveys (at least for this purpose) and focus on recording live intent signals to understand what your online visitors are telling you. Collecting, refining and processing this data with AI will enable you to build live profiles of each and every visitor, which you can use to present the most relevant product or information as they engage with you.

Managing intent

Your website visitors are not guaranteed bookers from the first visit, therefore on first inspection your sales platform could look irrelevant to some visitors. Understanding the type of visitor you are receiving and their intent will help you provide the right content and interactions on your site.

Data collected from visitor engagement creates clear and distinct profiles of your users, and through AI begin learning what these signals reveal about your products and your visitors’ expectations. AI algorithms are especially powerful at crunching data in real-time and responding accordingly, providing a live view of your booking performance, revenue generation and attribution to commercial goals. AI will enable you to become agile and more responsive to market conditions.

Travel intent categories

Travel shoppers can be split into four distinct intent categories to enable personalization algorithms to respond to each stage of the booking cycle. This allows travel companies to prepare their product portfolio, offers, promotions, and customer communications to be presented at the right time to the most relevant visitor.

Looker – the traveler is looking to be inspired; they are visiting for informational purposes. AI should present a variety of travel themes, destinations and specific products to build and enrich their user profile.

Planner – the visitor knows where they want to travel and their interests solidify; they are now defining the exact product. Using their intent signals provides the AI with the insight to present the most suitable products to drive them towards booking.

Booker – these travelers are here to secure their booking. AI has identified their interest and provides the specific product information most relevant to this user to encourage them to purchase.

Customer – their real-time user profile signals know they made a booking, so rather than displaying a similar product, present content, add-on products or services based on their booking and personal profile.

Measuring personalization performance

Commercial impact – what is the revenue uplift and booking values per customer, and the impact on conversion rates. Intent signals tell us approximate budgets of your visitors so your AI will present the most appropriately priced travel products.

Responding to visitors and providing relevant offers in real-time enables you to manage key commercial and performance metrics, while you improve the visibility of content. We review three core key performance indicators to measure the impact of our personalization solutions:

Engagement – the level of interaction with your visitors. By continually presenting content that is most relevant to that individual visitor, AI keeps them engaged, driving them through the booking funnel.

Attribution – the number of visitors who have acted on personalized interventions and moved to the next stage in the buying cycle. Recording visitors reaching the booking page or checking availability, as well as the revenue contributed by the use of distinct personalization use cases.

Responding to intent

AI adds a huge amount of power to your personalization strategies that you cannot harness by just using a CRM operating on historic data. You should match your product portfolio to your visitors so you are always relevant. This allows your digital, marketing and commerce teams to delve deeper into optimizing Call to Actions (CTAs) and how you present them to different visitors.

The same product will be considered differently by different visitors: you need to present product information most relevant to each visitor and their stage in the booking funnel. Responding to intent requires you to go to a deeper level with your product data so you are able to present more tailored offers and content to each visitor, including presenting the same product in different ways to suitably reflect each visitor’s booking stage.

Once your algorithms have learnt how visitors engage with your products, services and website, you will have the power to personalize your travel site to further your commercial goals, especially in challenging markets.

Andy Owen-Jones, founder CEO, bd4travel

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