Digital Travel Summit: Data and personalization take center stage

What stood out at Digital Travel Summit 2019  

Travel is all about delivering the best experience for each guest. And travel marketing is no different—at least it’s trying to get there.

The guest experience—throughout the traveler’s buying journey—was top of mind at Digital Travel Summit 2019. Numerous sessions and panels discussed the need for better data to drive marketing and advertising and how to use personalization to make marketing smarter. These are common marketing themes in any industry, but this year, travel marketers had an increased emphasis as they look for ways to unlock the power of data and personalization in their own marketing tactics.

Here, we recap the most prominent insights from the event and note who actually stole the show.

The importance of making the right data-driven decisions

We all know data is central to everything we do in marketing. But speakers this year stressed the need to make the right decisions based on the information at hand—and not try to use data to confirm our own preconceived notions.

  • Brendan Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, focused on how easy it is for companies to get lost in their own data. He noted that they’re often just trying to prove their own hypothesis—and it’s true that data can be manipulated in any way to prove almost any point. Brands and marketers need to do a better job of observing what is happening without bringing in their own biases.
  • This concept was reiterated in our breakout session with Jennifer Pintaluba, director of digital marketing at Regent Seven Seas. Pintaluba stressed letting data lead the way with decision-making by grounding marketing strategy in what actually drives more conversions across online and offline channels. “We have a lot of offline transactions, and it’s a big reason we work with Conversant,” she said. “They can tie those activities back to our advertising program, which is very useful for attribution.”

Jennifer Pintaluba speaks at Digital Travel Summit 2019

Personalization should be core to the entire traveler journey

Personalization as a topic isn’t new, but it was a central component of almost every conversation and presentation at the event. There is still a lot of room for travel brands to grow in this area, and there were some interesting insights that highlighted this personalization gap.

  • During Monday’s morning keynote, Eliot Hamlisch, senior vice president of loyalty and partnerships at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, said that brands need to personalize just to get attention today. He noted that there are 1,000+ brands in travel right now, 17 were new in 2018 and there are three new ones in 2019 already. His point: Consumers are overloaded with branding, but they’re willing to exchange information for a brand to know—and anticipate—their needs more. “Consumers are showing an increase in willingness to give brands their name, email and address in exchange for a personalized experience,” Hamlisch said.

Eliot Hamlisch speaks at Digital Travel Summit

  • Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power, shared their new study on US travel app satisfaction. “Travel apps lag far behind other consumer apps in overall customer satisfaction,” he said. “There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is a lack of personalization.”

Michael Taylor speaks at Digital Travel Summit

  • In a panel discussion with Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises, marketing representatives from the various brands discussed how personalization factors into their technology upgrades as well. Cruise guests can use apps to adjust the lighting in their rooms, order room service, request amenities, schedule meals onboard and much more—allowing the brand to learn more about each customer and make each experience feel more personal.

The stories that stole the show

There is a lot happening at these larger trade shows, but there are always a few presentations that keep everyone talking far beyond their session time. There were two at this year’s event that were consistently brought up in conversation long after the presentations.

  • In a fireside chat session, Leah Chandler, chief marketing officer at Discover Puerto Rico, shared how her organization overcame challenges with tourism after the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. Chandler’s team turned the natural disaster into a way to build a community response. They used the #CoverTheProgress hashtag on social media in an effort to get mainstream media to focus on the positive things happening throughout the island and ultimately galvanize foreigners to come back to visit and become a top Caribbean destination again. She shared a video, “From SOS to Bienvenidos,” highlighting how the community that created a viral moment about the crisis in Puerto Rico has recovered in the year since and is now inviting tourists to come back. It was a moving piece and a great example of the power of engaging, good content. And based on a recent write-up in The New York Times, her team’s efforts are working.
  • In an interesting case study session, Humphrey Ho, US managing director at Hylink Travel, an agency that works with brands interested in getting the attention of Chinese travelers, talked about the growth of the Chinese middle class and how they’re becoming a major force in the international travel market. According to Ho, at any given point, this demographic makes up as much as 1 in 5 travelers worldwide. This was just one presentation, but there were numerous conversations following the session that touched on this topic on some way.

Travel brands are uniquely positioned to serve a wide array of travelers. But to do that—and do it well—it requires best-in-class marketing, powered by personalization and data. Does your airline, hotel, cruise line, car rental—you name it—have what it takes attract new and retain current customers?

Learn how to connect with travelers at every stage of their journey