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GDPR: turn a headache into an opportunity

Like other businesses, travel companies are also affected by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Since May 25th, customers have been able to take back control of their data, and for businesses this date was a daunting one – you may even still be uncertain about the changes. Leading up to the deadline there was a lot of fear-inducing information about how GDPR will impact various industries, however the new regulation also brings opportunities.

The start of this new era coincides with heightened awareness about data privacy issues in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica revelations. But GDPR is here partly because marketing has become a blunt instrument. People are, quite understandably, frustrated that their doormats and inboxes are ankle-deep with messages they don’t want, all because they took a package holiday 10 years ago.

Now, when a customer asks you to turn off the flow of what they see as spam or junk, you have to do as they say. Companies have been asking customers whether they want to carry on receiving marketing content. Many are happy with ‘acceptance rates’ of 80%. But turn that number round and it doesn’t look so positive. The thought of losing 20% of data overnight won’t be going down quite so well in boardrooms. Nor will the realisation that the volume could carry on dwindling.

Turn customers from deleters to buyers

So, what if you could stop that happening? What if you could turn the expense and hard labour of GDPR compliance into a way of understanding your customers better, and getting closer to them? What if those customers actually valued what you sent them and wanted to open it, instead of hitting ‘delete’? And what if that made them more loyal, bigger spenders?

That’s the prize for travel businesses who can harness the systems they’ve invested in to get real value from their data, not just avoid a €20m fine for breaching GDPR.

Get your data in one place

Larger travel companies are made up of multiple businesses – airlines, hotels, premium and bargain brands, for instance. It’s rare that all the data is available to all the businesses. You could take a cruise with one of them, but be unknown to the hotel chain in the same group. That’s a missed opportunity. Having a single view of all your customers’ data is an essential first step to understanding what appeals to them, and when. The same goes for business functions. A sales department will hold different data to a destination services team. But each could benefit from the insights waiting to be discovered in the other’s data.

Ask your data more questions

Many people have a Machiavellian view of what businesses are doing with their data. But the reality is different. Most are doing nothing more than the most basic storage, and broad-brush marketing campaigns based on a few high-level indicators about buying habits, and obvious seasonal cues.

Giving people a better product and service means trying new things. For instance, alongside the usual demographics like age, family size and geography, test some hypotheses by tracking how people behave in certain situations. Seeing how two groups respond to two different emails could tell you that the assumptions behind your groupings need a rethink, or that the content isn’t right.

The range of questions you can ask of your data is nearly endless, and you’ll need the right analytical brains to pick the right ones and understand the answers. But thanks to your GDPR compliance effort, you have the tools at your disposal.

Understand your data

Nearly every company knows which emails their customers open and which links they click on. But how many act on the information beyond not sending a customer an email about backpacking in Peru next time if they didn’t open it last time?

Monitoring how effective your promotions are brings you insights. That’s all the more so when you combine it with other data, like whether people opt for the extra-legroom seats, the bigger luggage allowance, the extra excursion or the room with the balcony. That knowledge is vital when it comes to shaping the message for the next piece of content.

You can go a step further and bring in other data. For instance, if bookings to some destinations drop off after terrorist incidents, civil unrest or natural disasters, what does that tell you about people’s sensitivity to events like this? And what does it tell you about the messages they should be getting when these events happen?

It’s by combining data sources that you’ll build up a detailed picture of who your customers really are, and what they’re most likely to welcome. It can also help you make operational decisions. If you let customers book sunbeds in advance, what’s the effect on those who don’t book? Do they change their habits to get to the pool early? Is the hotel ready for a spike in 6am breakfasts?

Now that GDPR has come into force, you are likely to be taking the relevant steps to become compliant. The travel industry has an advantage because customers often want to take advantage of deals, however the next phase to maintain customer satisfaction and profitability is to connect the data dots and really get to know your customers. 

Louise Davies, travel expert at PA


Contact the author

  • Louise Davies

    Louise Davies

    PA travel expert

    I help transport and travel organisations design and deliver the right customer experience across their products and services to their passengers and guests

    Insights by Louise Davies

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