How To Grow Your Travel Business With The Help Of Open Data

In this blog post we will show that open data can effectively shape your customer decisions and give energy to your business, once translated and put into insights; especially in the travel industry, that is ever-changing and deeply related to customer’s commitment.

“There’s no substitute for just going there” wrote Yvon Chouinard, an American climber, environmentalist and businessman who dedicated his life to nature and traveling. A lot has changed since when Yvon traveled around the U.S.A. to climb the Yosemite; technology and internet have radically transformed the travel industry to the point that now holidays find people, not the other way round.  

In fact, with the advent of internet and smartphones travelers have been changing their habits and needs, they find all the information they need before, while and after the trip they have been thinking about; this is called Travel 2.0 a travel based extension of the Web 2.0 and refers to the growing presence and influence of the user in the traveling process. Along with the changing of the industry, marketing in the tourism sector is changing just as well and must be revolved around customers, so companies and consultants need to know perfectly their target and who they are talking to.

The core characteristics of tourism activity still remain the same, though:

  • tourism is perishable, which is typical of services, as they are consumed while produced so, for example, you won’t be able to sell a room that is vacant today, tomorrow and this is where overbooking comes from;
  • tourism is also inconsistent, as the conditions that apply today may not apply tomorrow if it rains the facility may be perceived by customers differently than if it had been sunny and this type of offer can’t be standardized;
  • intangibility: how many times have you showed pictures of an hotel room to your friends saying “well, I guess it looked better when I was there” this is because you can’t take home the hotel room in Paris or the view from a chalet in the Alps; tourism is just memories and images depicted in the customer’s mind.

The travel industry is mainly people-oriented, so what better way to develop, for example, an effective campaign than extracting it directly from your customers?

Travelers carry and leave behind a big amount of data: inquiries, questions on forums, bookings, researches about accommodation, transport, itineraries, feedbacks and so on in different stages that go from the idea of getting away to the feedback to the airline company, hospitality structure etc. As a matter of fact, the process that customers face when planning a trip is made of a dizzying number of moments which are rich in intent, even after having booked the trip.

This kind of data is mostly raw and unstructured and comes from different sources but when brought together and analyzed this information will portrait traveler’s behaviors and shape personas from which you can start building a marketing campaign and focus on your target and its needs. Open data have become a tool that can help businesses growing and acquiring new customers when extracted and processed, they can also help to predict the future, giving the hint of a future trend of the business.

In the past few years open data have become a major tool for businesses, they can be leveraged and shaped into solutions deliverable to the final user; along with the growing importance given to open data there has also been a development of free tools, open source softwares and case studies that made having to deal with data easier.

SalzburgerLand, the Salzburg State Board of Tourism, provided us with open data coming from one of their booking channels, it contained information about the flow of visitors in the Salzburg State, for each Nation the table contained the daily amount of Inquiries, Bookings, Arrivals and Nights divided by Country of origin.  

We analyzed the data and selected the Nations with the largest amounts of entries which presumably were the ones with the largest tourist flow towards Austria, in this case, Germany, Austria , and Holland.

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We were also able to report in which month each of these countries visited Austria, as expected the peak of the tourist flow is reached in the months of February, March and in the Summer (June, July, and August).

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Once we came up with these macro-groups we examined their correlations with a pattern of researches on Google and noticed that people looked for Salzburg themed queries in all the moments the table was divided in, moreover analyzing the queries we found out that, for example, German people at the time of booking looked for hotels in specific small towns in the Salzburg area or that Dutch people while they were staying in Salzburg region looked for information about Dolomites, we assumed they were on a trip with a camper van and a research-backed our assumption along with related queries (Camping Italy) that confirmed the intent of continuing the trip driving around Europe. At this point, we had enough information to define the various targets and identify their needs. We created six personas that resembled real people with real needs around which we built the set of queries extracted from the data.

Google published a research on Travel and Hospitality which divided the customer journey in four micro-moments: I-want-to-get-away moments, time-to-make-a-plan moments, let’s-book-it moments, and can’t-wait-to-explore moments. In each one of these moments, customers or potential customers can be taken by the hand and influenced by effective content and campaigns.

Those moments start when people dream of a getaway and go on until they are on holiday, enjoying their fully thought vacation.

We found out that the data we had extracted for our client were highly correlated with relevant patterns of researches on Google, for example, a general query like “ski holiday deals” is more likely searched for during the I-want-to-get-away moment, in which people are browsing and dreaming of their future holiday. The correlation between a query and the researches on Google in a certain Nation can be an opportunity to influence people’s preferences and purchases and to reach customers in all the micro-moments that the trip is made of.

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This is Stefan, he is from Germany and he has already been in the Salzburg region so he’s looking for hotels in a specific town and he also wants to know where he can go skiing in Flachau (skigebiet meaning ski area). We also elaborated a graphic of each query’s trend.

This way we can build a content campaign centered on the client’s customers and aimed at conquering and engaging users. We determined what travelers want and when in order to just be there with the right offer.

The creation of the personas worked also as a segmentation based on nationality, travel reason and loyalty so it would be easy to understand the customer’s values and what to create. The aim of marketing and content marketing, in the age of smartphones, is to connect to the person you want to reach out and deliver the answers they are looking for, be relevant to the user when in need and be on time.
When examining the data we discovered that Inquiries drive Bookings because the two are strongly correlated (Pearson Correlation=0.70) as we expected, so we could predict the trend of the bookings in the future, as the graphic below shows and this data can be useful to programme and deliver campaigns on time to users.

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A data-backed marketing campaign can fuel your business growth centering it around your customers and adapting it to the modern standards of connectivity and sharing; we can transform plain data and grey spreadsheets into beautiful, compelling stories that will draw your target’s attention.

In the end, all will be at hand, even the Yosemite, at least online!

Find out more on how this analysis has helped SLT, after the first 6 months, outperforming the competition by bringing 92.65% more users via organic search than all other travel websites in Austria (from the WordLift website)! 

 

 

 

One Week at the Monastery building WordLift.

Last week our team has gathered for a focused face-to-face session in a remote location of Abruzzo right in the center of Italy: the Abbey of Santo Spirito d’Ocre. Like early agile-teams we’ve discovered once again the importance of working together in close proximity and the value of keeping a healthy balance between hard work and quality of life. We’ve also found ourselves in love with the product we’re building and happy to share it with others.

Our business is made of small distributed teams organised in startups each one self-sufficient and focused on a specific aspect of our technology (we help business and individuals manage and organise contents being text, data, images or videos).

As peers gathered from different time zones in this unique little monastery of cistercian order we began executing our plan.

And yes, getting to the meeting with a clear agenda did help.  All the issues we had in our list had been summarised and shared in a dedicated Trello board. These included mainly the work we’ve been doing in the last years on WordLift our semantic editor for WordPress.

Cistercians (at least in the old days) kept manual labour as a central part of their monastic life. In our case we’ve managed to structure most of our days around three core activities: business planningbug fixing and software documentation. At the very basis we’ve kept the happiness of working together around something we like.

Emphatic vs Lean: setting up the Vision.

Most of the work in startups is governed by lean principles, the tools and the mindset of the people have been strongly influenced by the work of Eric Ries who first published a book to promote the lean approach and to share his recipe for continuos innovation and business success.

After over three years of work on WordLift we can say that we’ve worked in a complete different way. Lean demands teams to get out of the building and look for problems to be solved. In our case, while we’ve spent most of our time “out of the building” (and with our clients) we’ve started our product journey from a technology, inspired by the words of Tim Berners Lee on building a web for open, linked data and we’ve studied all possible ways to create an emotional connection with bloggers and writers.

Not just that, we have also dedicated time in analyzing the world of journalism, its changes and how it will continue evolving according to journalistic celebrities like David Carr (a famous journalist of the New York Times who died early on this year) and many others like him as well as the continuously emerging landscape of news algorithms that help people reach the content they want.

Establish the Vision of WordLiftUnderstanding that WordLift, and the go-to-market process that will follow shall be empathy-driven rather than lean is one of the greatest outcome of our “monastic” seminar in the valley of L’Aquila.

By using an empathy-driven expression: we’ve finally set the Vision.

Organise the Workflow: getting things done.

As most of today’s open-source software, WordLift is primarily built over GitHub.

While GitHub can be used and seen as a programming tool, GitHub – being the largest digital space for collaborative works – embeds your workflow.

While working at the monastery we’ve been able to discuss, test and implement a GitFlow workflow.

The Gitflow Workflow is designed around a strict branching model for project releases. While somehow complicated in the beginning we see it as a robust framework for continuing the development of WordLift and for doing bug fixing without waiting for the next release cycle.

Documentation. Documentation. Documentation.

Writing (hopefully good) software documentation helps the users of any product and shall provide a general understanding of core features and functions.

The reality is that, when documenting your own software, the advantages go way beyond the original aim of helping end-users.

By updating WordLift documentation we were able to get a clearer overview of all actions required by an editor in composing his/her blog post and/or in creating and publishing the knowledge graph. We also have been able to detect flows in the code and in the user experience.

Most importantly we’ve found that writing the documentation (and this is also done collaboratively over GitHub) can be a great way to keep everyone in sync between the “Vision” of the product (how to connect with our usersand the existing implementation (what are we offering with this release).

Next steps

Now it’s time to organise the team and start the next iterations by engaging with the first users of this new release while fine-tuning the value proposition (below the emphatic view of @mausa89 on the USP of WordLift).

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As this is the very first blog post I’m writing with WordLift v3 I can tell you I’m very happy about it and if you would like to test it too join our newsletter...we will keep you posted while continue playing!

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The closing of this blog post is @colacino_m‘s night improvisation from the monastery.

Retreat at the Monastery