Travel TechnologyHow can travel operators benefit from using data to personalise the visitor experience? Some highlights from STB’s Tourism Data Leadership Conference.

Seize the data: What 4 travel leaders learn from using data for business

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While the focus previously was to build on data capabilities, today's travel climate can benefit from the sharing of meaningful data.
While the focus previously was to build on data capabilities, today's travel climate can benefit from the sharing of meaningful data. Photo Credit: GettyImages/metamorworks

Data is central to many businesses today, and the travel industry is no exception. But with more data created than ever before, bordering on information overload, data won't be meaningful unless there’s insights and collaboration.

Speaking at the virtual Tourism Data Leadership Conference organised by Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on 2 March, STB’s chief technology officer Wong Ming Fai recognises the complexity of the data-driven environment facing travel industry today.

“In today's environment, data has become a key resource for businesses. While each of us collect some data about this, none of us really have a comprehensive view of the end-to-end journey of visitors,” said Wong.

“Unless we come together to collaborate and unleash the power of collective data for actionable insights to attract more business, provide better experiences and market relevant products and experiences to them.”

During the virtual conference, travel association chiefs in Singapore also came together to share their learnings and challenges of using data in their respective industries.

Steven Ler, president, National Association of Travel Agents Singapore

There's a lack of data consolidation. Everybody's doing their little piggy banks of data where they only apply to themselves.– Steven Ler, president, National Association of Travel Agents Singapore

Fragmented data usage: Different segments of agencies have different ability to generate data that we look at, so the usage of data varies. Pre-Covid, demographic driven data such as the length of stay, the typical family size, the amount that they're likely to spend, were the data points many travel agencies used as a point of identification to treat different customer segments arriving from different destinations. The current challenges that the agencies are facing primarily is the lack of data consolidation. Everybody's doing their little piggy banks of data where they only apply to themselves.

Forget about historical data: Even the data that we're looking for on a quarterly basis is changing quite a lot. When we look at our own data during the opening of Singapore's vaccinated travel lanes back in September 2021 and the data points for the forward few months, they are different. We see people a lot more willing to travel and opting for free and easy options over organised options, and booking better quality offerings on top of it. So we cannot assume that the historic data will give us that same insights.

Kevin Cheong, chairman, Association of Singapore Attractions

Collaborative competition: In the Smoky Mountains in the US state of Tennessee, there’s a place called Pigeon Forge with Dollywood and a couple of Titanic attractions. The operators come together to do dynamic pricing early in the morning — how they can run specials and bring in bargain hunters to visit at off-peak times and seasons. Having said that, we also share and work together with travel agents and hotels on the island of Sentosa to curate an itinerary that can excite the whole family. And from the attraction standpoint, I think we should not just treat each other as competition but really collaborate and increase that fun quotient from our guests.

Less guesstimate, more insights: There’s a lot of guesswork when it comes to data collection in the attractions industry. All of us have a different perspective to the same person, be it as a hotel guest or a business traveller visiting an attraction. If data could be shared, it will help us build a 24-hour picture of the traveller, times an X number of days, and curate a more wholesome destination experience according to what this person wants.

Arthur Kiong, vice president, Singapore Hotels Association

No data can tell you what product and innovation to make. Steve Jobs didn't do a customer survey in order to create the iPod.– Arthur Kiong, vice president, Singapore Hotels Association

Common sense must prevail: Data is not gospel. For example, a guest holding a British passport doesn't mean that he's living in London; he could be booking from Hong Kong. So the source of bookings is more important than a guest’s nationality. Essentially, it’s these insights and common sense which are far more important than, you know, ‘what does the data tell you?’ But sometimes, people use data to hide behind making the tough decisions. And I think that's a danger as we become more digitised. No data can tell you what product and innovation to make. Steve Jobs didn't do a customer survey in order to create the iPod.

Data doesn’t need sophisticated software: Data doesn't have to come about because of a sophisticated software or computer programme. Let’s just say we want to know whether we’re going to offer a guest a free upgrade or a free breakfast. To test the hypothesis of what a customer may require, you don't have to write a programme, just use the chicken scratch method. ‘Would you prefer upgrade or breakfast?' And then after three days, you might have asked 100 customers and 70% wanted an upgrade, and now you know you can continue with the programme. As long as you account and analyse the maths when talking about data, it doesn't mean some fancy software programme is needed.

Richard Ireland, acting president, Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers

Let’s talk about trust: That's a challenge is around trust. We’re all in very competitive businesses. While we all want to see our industry do well, and Singapore do well, there's the issue of trust. How do I trust who I'm sharing my data with? I think these are the major challenges that we face when it comes to data sharing.

Data for greater recovery: As an industry we can use data for the greater good. During the Covid period, we did pilot events, to demonstrate through data, that events are safe for everyone to attend. Now, if the data was not shared, the collective good in the industry wouldn't be realised. Historically, in the MICE industry, a lot of data is shared around the scale of a show, e.g. how many square metres, how many attendees, etc, which is quite poor data. As we move into recovery, where everyone talks about high satisfaction scores or effective market channels, you can really position your industry as an industry of strength if you share more macro data.

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