Four Ways Travel and Tourism Companies Are Capitalizing on Travelers’ Digital Footprints

As globetrotting becomes more accessible and popular than ever before, there's great potential for companies to use data to anticipate traveler preferences, improve customer experiences, access untapped leads, and boost their bottom lines.

By Stephanie Walden, Contributor

Today’s travelers leave behind more than just physical footprints wherever they roam: They also drop digital clues that collectively inform larger trends in the travel and tourism sectors.

As globetrotting becomes more accessible and popular than ever before, there’s great potential for companies to use data to anticipate traveler preferences, improve customer experiences, access untapped leads, and boost their bottom lines.

Here are four ways businesses are utilizing data analytics and emerging technologies to revolutionize modern travel.

1. Enhancing the Customer Experience

Airlines are overhauling clunky legacy systems in order to make better use of customer data and and enhance customer service. From planning flight routes to improving customer service and loyalty programs to responding to natural disasters in real time, airline and aviation companies are using data in a variety of ways to modernize operations.

Australia-based airline Qantas offers an app that gives passengers a personalized flight timeline, guides for easy check-in, and travel-related content that adapts to users based upon their in-app behavior and specific flight details. The app provides users with a customized feed of news, restaurant recommendations, offers, and shopping experiences based on content they’ve previously interacted with, their passenger profiles, and current flight itinerary. The app also syncs with travelers’ planned journeys to provide relevant news and videos related to upcoming destinations. To encourage customers to share their data with third parties such as brand affiliates and advertisers, Qantas rewards those who opt in with frequent flyer points.

United Airlines, too, uses data in inventive ways to improve the travel experience: The company’s “collect, detect, act” approach to data analytics takes into account more than 150 variables about each customer—including elements such as how frequently they fly with the airline and previous destinations they’ve traveled to—which are assessed in real time. Flight attendants are equipped with handheld devices that display passenger data such as dietary restrictions, frequent flyer status, and if they have a connecting flight. Collected data also serves to help the airline anticipate overbookings.

2. Improving Travel Security

Airports and airlines are investing heavily in cybersecurity technologies—spending reached $3.9 billion in 2018. With the number of travelers taking to the skies expected to double in the next two decades, airports will need to streamline security processes in order to handle the hordes of people trying to get to their gates.

Biometrics, which have already become commonplace in consumer technology like smartphones, are now being incorporated into airport security processes. The future biometric airport is rooted in the idea of “single token travel.” This means that once travelers’ faces match their passports during initial security screenings, they can proceed through all remaining checkpoints without producing additional documents. In Brisbane, such a system is already being tested: Travelers simply show their passports, boarding passes, and facial images at check-in, and then navigate seamlessly through the remaining control points. At gates, passengers only have to look into a camera to board their flight.

3. Hyper-Personalization of Itineraries and Experiences

“Personalization” is a buzzy term in industries ranging from big banking to food delivery, and the travel and tourism sector is no exception. Today, companies are seeking to create hyper-personalized experiences based on traveler trends.

Journy, for instance, is a digital travel agency that pairs prospective business and leisure travelers with custom itineraries, including accommodations, activities, and restaurants. The company uses open-source data (such as reviews on social media or travel sites), as well as proprietary customer surveys to inform travel-planning at scale. Since launching in 2016, Journy has helped formulate around 6,000 trips in more than 100 destinations.

Journy issues smart predictions about where and how consumers should spend their time and money. AI algorithms automate about 80 percent of Journy’s travel suggestions; the remaining 20 percent is supplemented by high-touch, human input and one-on-one consultations with trip designers. The company’s curated database — a global network of more than 900 chefs and local experts — is supplemented by an internal ranking algorithm that adapts to users’ profiles, preferences, and the histories of similar travelers’ plans.

“What this looks like in practice is, say you’re going to Tokyo for the first time and you have five days there with a significant other, and you’re interested in must-see attractions, world-class cocktails, history, and fine dining,” explained Journy cofounder Leiti Hsu. “Our system pulls up for the Journy trip designer recommendations from hundreds of past trips we’ve planned, and it prioritizes the places that were most popular with [your] particular profile of traveler.”

4. Streamlining Logistics

One common pain point that has long frustrated frequent travelers is the extensive research required before visiting a new destination. BYG, or Before You Go, is another startup that aggregates data from governmental and NGO sources in order to streamline travel logistics via a series of online guides for more than 70 countries. BYG’s single-page, location-specific overviews detail logistical information such as visa requirements, best wireless carriers, plug adapters, driving regulations, required vaccines, and more. The guides also evolve based upon source data to ensure constant accuracy.

As digital transformation continues to shape the future of travel, companies are tapping data to continuously revolutionize how people explore the world—and the digital footprints created along the way.