How data activation can take travel marketers to their dream destination

Economic turbulence, pandemic and wider industry disruption such as strike action and staff shortages means travel marketers must work harder to utilise their data in order to convince wary travellers to part with their dwindling spare leisure spend.

A recent survey from Making Science indicates that despite nearly all travel marketers collecting data via online sources (90%), only just over half (58%) measure and analyse their data at a holistic level — missing the opportunity to understand their customers on a deeper level — and only a third (33%) are leveraging smart technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), to enrich the information they gather.

Lloyd Davies, Managing Director, Making Science UK, discusses how travel marketers are failing in the final stages of their data journey, reducing marketing efficiency, wasting investment and falling short of the tailored advertising needed to attract travellers. 

Last year was meant to be the year that travel and tourism bounced back after the relaxation of Covid-19 testing and the easing of travel restrictions. However, a ‘summer of chaos’ and the onset of economic uncertainty means 2023 has begun with nationwide domestic travel strikes and the further threat of strike action by airport workers.

As a result, travel brands are now battling the perfect storm; a lack of disposable income and concern over possible travel disruption. So as they consider the year ahead, industry marketers will have to  leverage every tool available to optimise their results, particularly — as recent Making Science research indicates —  reviewing their data activation strategies for inefficiencies. 

The journey to marketing efficiency

The first leg of the journey to achieving the best ROI for marketing budgets, is for advertisers to use the data they have collected to its fullest potential. However, new research suggests that many travel marketers are not digging into this data to generate tailored insights, with over half (58%) only measuring and analysing their data at a holistic level, losing the specificity needed to understand their customers in depth. In addition, nearly half (49%) of those analysing across a range of data sources are failing to make educated comparisons, with their data remaining in silos.

Furthermore, depending on the investment in data experts, the predominantly (61%) internal-management of data quality assurance within travel marketing could lead to, or signify,  inaccurate and invalid data being analysed.  

Despite nearly all travel marketers (90%) collecting online data — from analytics, campaigns and websites — only a third (33%) are leveraging smart technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), to enrich the information they gather. This points to weak spots in travel marketers’ data strategies, and significant wastage of investment, with a large amount of businesses collecting data, but failing to leverage techniques to expand and optimise its usage. This failure in the final stages of the data journey is impacting marketing efficiency, with travel companies wasting their initial investment and setting themselves up to fall short of the tailored advertising needed to continue attracting travellers.

To combat the challenges faced by marketers ahead of the 2023 booking season, data insights will be essential to keep in touch with consumer sentiment towards travel and the real-time challenges they face, to encourage them to confirm their holiday reservations. Those marketers failing to carefully collect, sort and validate their own first-party data will be at a distinct disadvantage. 

Compliance and data legislation

This preference for manual procedures, alongside the rather knotty issue of data compliance, suggests many marketers aren’t near their destination when it comes to responsible and smart data use. Current General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the changes to data processes that the legislation has brought about has had a profound effect on marketing and advertising. 

Interestingly, 38% of respondents said they are aware of the changes, have implemented them on some level, and/or had support from an external expert to help with adherence. However, only 33% have mobilised to establish their own expertise in this area, potentially unsurprising considering respondents from the travel and tourism sector indicated above average (13%) uncertainty about whether GDPR applies to their business. This is interesting considering we’re talking about a sector where international data transfers are more likely; even more so when several high profile data breaches — including those by stalwarts BA and Easyjet — have rocked the industry in recent years.

Despite the UK Government’s recent announcement of plans to remove GDPR regulation in favour of its own stipulations, businesses will undoubtedly be required to understand and act upon revised data privacy protections, and still respect the data that they’re managing from EU nations. Handling data in compliant fashion will therefore remain important to travel businesses as legislation continues to develop. 

Less general analysis, more advanced activation

To ensure future opportunities are not missed and marketing activities are optimised, advertisers should look beyond general activation solutions. There are analytical tools that offer a basic level of analysis, but do not examine full, large-scale data sets. Instead, they extrapolate information from a smaller sample to draw a representation.

Today, modern travel marketers should be embracing advanced solutions that securely assess large amounts of data to produce minutia detail and in-depth insights — offering privacy-friendly targeted advertising initiatives. 

AI technology can further the value and usability of these insights. It does this by extending and expanding upon the information generated by advanced analytics tools, and through prediction-based modelling audience insights that can be broadened beyond the bounds of existing data.

Tailored marketing content through audience profiling is a by-product of advanced analytics tools — all the guidance a marketer needs to influence marketing decisions and understand the varying levels of success of any given campaign. It goes without saying, but this allows businesses to measure marketing activity against objectives and ROI. 

With the pound recently falling to a 37-year low against the US dollar, the travel and tourism vista in 2023 may seem less verdant for marketing budgets. If global travel is set to look far less enticing to consumers, smarter data activation could be travel marketers’ ticket to ride to a more optimised advertising strategy.

By Lloyd Davies

Managing Director 

Making Science UK