The Empowered Traveler (and My Sister-in-Law) Rules

By Adam Figueira

December 13, 2013

You’ve heard it by now. The customer is more empowered than ever before. Put the customer at the center of your business. Become more customer centric.

What’s making customers more empowered, or what’s requiring companies to focus more on the customer, is the proliferation of smartphones and tablets and the fact that the customer is always online, can check a price, or can send a text to a friend asking how much they paid for a flight or a hotel room.

When it comes to travel, there’s an additional way consumers are empowered. Travelers have an increasing ability and amount of patience to shop for the lowest price possible. And unless you respond, you’ll remain in a disadvantageous position.

The Empowered Traveler

Here’s what I mean. My sister-in-law goes on a big vacation every year, spending two weeks, usually somewhere in Europe. These trips cost a lot of money. She’ll spend months on different websites. Whether it’s an airline, an online travel agency, or hotel, she’s always looking for the lowest price. Because she’s from the Philadelphia area, she’s not confined to one airport. She has no hotel brand affinity, and, lucky for her, there’s plenty of flexibility on the best days, weeks or even months when she can travel.

The result of all this research is that she knows more about you than you know about her. She knows your prices. She knows how those prices compare to your competitors. She knows how often you change your prices. She knows whether your marketing is complete crap or if it has any truth to it at all.

This begs the question: What do you know about my sister-in-law? Likely, not a lot.

Most travel companies, like most companies in general, are just doing aggregate site-side analytics, measuring things like page views, average time on site, the number of people coming to the website, the average cost-per-click for paid search, or the cost-per-conversion.

Your traditional site-side metrics are completely worthless. These metrics have no context. Nothing tells you that my sister-in-law is in the market for a two-week vacation to Frankfurt. You have no idea that she has visited your top three competitors. You’re not aware that in addition to travel, she’s interested in a hotel and a rail ticket to Berlin.

For travel brands, the lines are skewed. There’s a big gap between what the customer knows about you and what you know about the customer. To move closer to your customers, you need to act on the knowledge you have about them to deliver a more relevant experience.

Up until now, the customer experience for a traveler has been all about what happens in-person. Moving someone from standby to an earlier flight, upgrading someone to first class, your hotel amenities over another property, etc. So why aren’t you delivering that same experience on your website? Why haven't you moved the experience that the customer is purchasing into the channel where the customer actually makes the purchase?

You focus so much on the in-person experience, but very little when the customer books. It’s time for a change.

Start by listening to your customers in the same manner that they’re listening to you. When a customer tells you that they’re traveling with two adults and two children, highlight hotel properties with pools, or flights that have seats together.

Pay attention to search data, where they’re going, their departure and return dates, or even third-party browsing and purchase behavior. Identify the right pieces of data rather than implementing these one-size-fits-all analytics tools that track the same things your competitors do.

The true cost of doing business with you is measured in time. Shrink the time that it takes the customer to find what it is that they’re looking for by using customer data to create a relevant and seamless booking experience. Only then will my sister-in-law book her trip or stay with you.

Adam Figueira is a former product marketing director at Monetate.

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