Big data has the potential to transform how travel companies deliver services to travellers, according to a major independent global study released today.
The study cautions, however, that the industry is at a ‘big data crossroads’, and that businesses must make big data an urgent priority in order to truly maximise its benefits and ensure a more intelligent and responsive travel experience in the process.
‘At the Big Data Crossroads: turning towards a smarter travel experience’ charts the emergence of new technologies and strategies for managing big data, and outlines how big data can be harnessed to focus travel around customer needs and preferences, not industry processes.
Based on extensive input from chief information officers and big data experts from companies around the world, including Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific, Eurostar, Facebook, Frontier Airlines, KAYAK, Marriott Hotels and Munich Airport, key findings from the study include:
- Now is the time to act: The report calls on travel firms to start benchmarking their maturity against the industry whilst assembling the necessary data science skills and formulating an overall big data strategy for their organisations.
- Big data offers major opportunities for travel companies to improve both the business and experience of travel: the benefits of big data include better decision-making, greater product and service innovation and stronger customer relationships that will be delivered by new approaches to customer management, revenue management and internal operations.
- Pockets of innovation using big data are present in the industry today: the study includes examples of how leading travel firms are making use of big data today: from KAYAK’s price flight forecasting model, which presents customers with the likely change in a flight’s price over a seven-day window, to Air France-KLM’s use of Hadoop as the basis of a group-wide revenue management system.
- Emerging technologies will be key to the big data evolution: the onset of new open-source software for dividing data processing jobs across multiple commodity servers, together with new types of databases including ‘columnar’ and ‘vertical’ approaches, and emerging programming languages like Python, Pig and Hive, combine to deliver the potential to harness big data.
- The effective deployment of big data initiatives is not without challenges: the study finds that to access the big data opportunity the travel industry must overcome significant challenges, including: data fragmentation across multiple systems; co-existence of both big data and traditional data management architectures; finding and recruiting scarce big data science skills; and managing data responsibly and in the interests of all.
Thomas Davenport, visiting professor, Harvard Business School, and study author, commented: “The travel industry stands at a big data crossroads today, with new technologies and techniques offering the potential to translate increasing volumes of data into higher profits and more efficient operations.
“Some leading companies are pioneering the use of big data and already seeing a huge impact. Airlines, airports, hotels, rail companies and travel sellers need to ask themselves if they have a big data strategy in place, and if it will allow them to be at the forefront of this opportunity.”