2021 Horizons: Going Behind the Data

Starting with a positive note, how has the industry been responding to the huge challenges faced at this current moment in time?

What can we learn by hearing from a range of industry perspectives joined with us for this important discussion?

Helena Sjögren kicks off the discussion reflecting on the one positive thing coming out of this situation: the realisation that we must focus on the needs of our clients above all else.

Starting with a positive note, how has the industry been responding to the huge challenges faced at this current moment in time? What can we learn by hearing from a range of industry perspectives joined with us for this important discussion?

Helena Sjögren kicks off the discussion reflecting on the one positive thing coming out of this situation: the realisation that we must focus on the needs of our clients above all else. From a Skyscanner perspective, James O'Leary talks about how they have had to be much more consultative when working with their clients. He talks about the response from the industry being very pragmatic and many brands being very daring; where brands have taken risks this has gone very well. From a Meliá perspective, José Luis Aranda talks about the need to be very transparent with their clients, whilst keeping a strong focus on the situation as it evolved at the early stages of the pandemic; as things developed they needed to be fully up-to-date on the current situation in each market. This approach has required teams to be flexible and adaptable whilst fully grasping the data in front of them for communications purposes, especially seeing big differences from East to West across the brand.

From a data perspective, Meliá found itself in a strong position entering the pandemic because of the significant steps taken in recent years to organise and manage first-party data very effectively through a Data Management Platform (DMP). Managing the data, they have been able to provide very personalised information to clients, across seven brands and ensure they can always communicate effectively. On the other hand, they have had to balance the reality of the situation with data and make decisions on how to communicate and what to communicate by leveraging that data.

First-party data has also been key for ETraveli, which in view of GDPR and stringent rules governing data means this data is their priority. If we look at the question of data, 'real-time' data is much more powerful than looking back at historical data. Now more than ever there is the need to look at travel intent and focus on the decision-making process based on what the data is showing.

Skyscanner come from a slightly different perspective in this respect, their data is fully real-time, it's overarching and provides a full-funnel picture on the current situation, but one thing that is clear is that this will only get you so far in the current crisis. They've added to the mix traveller surveys, to also get an understanding on traveller sentiment, which is now layered into their other data and provides a crucial perspective which is an understanding of what consumers are thinking and feeling. Data has proven key to defining the right messaging, considering the full range of data points, whilst filtering out what is most important for you as an organisation.

There has been a data lesson learned by everyone in the past few months and this is something which isn't likely to go away.

Right now, it's critical that people have a close eye when things are going well but also when things are not going well.

Shifting the conversation to creative messaging, Toby points out that we're seeing two strands of messaging emerge. There's the need to provide reassurance to travellers that it's safe to travel first of all but when that message is delivered successfully there's the opportunity to promote and create the inspiration to travel.

At ETraveli, the reality is that they just paused the messaging and switched to responding to the huge draw of people seeking information for a while. The reality is, you can't push people to travel but when they reach out when they become the 'pull' on marketing, that's when there's an opportunity to leverage all the resources available to give them the right information. One of the key challenges in this respect is the difficulty in giving the most accurate and up-to-date answers when the picture is changing so rapidly, which leads to also signposting to the right sources of information and assisting customers to get the right knowledge elsewhere. This has meant shifting the mindset to accept the fact that no brand can be a governmental source of up-to-date information and the fact that if people come to your channels there's a level of intent already established and there is, of course, an opportunity to respond to.

This shift in messaging is something also experienced by Meliá, they started with a 'stay safe by Meliá forum', to show that they are following all the safety protocols being put in place. By April, they started speaking with clients, through surveys to premium clients to not only share what the company is thinking but also reach out and see what the real situation is for their customers. Based on knowing the expectations of customers, they have been able to adapt the experience within the hotels. They also realised that they need to accelerate the digitalisation of the stay and to communicate everyday-services such as food and beverage and in-hotel concierge.

Flexibility clearly showed itself to be one of the most important things to communicate to customers and reinforce the message.

At Skyscanner, they found out that there is a different message between 'active' destinations and 'passive' destinations', just like you would have audiences in different buckets. Over the summer, there has been an understanding of the need to reinforce safety, trust and responsibility whilst seeking a clear response from customers all at the time. The need for information and transparency on trust and safety is just as important as the need for transparency all at the same time. There is a growing realisation that travel businesses can't claw back flexibility yet next year. The fact is that nothing is linear and brands must remain absolutely adaptable at all times.

One great thing seeing coming out of this if we think about the DMO or Destination perspective is that they are getting the message right, they are clearly in-tune with the consumers and getting the right balance of focusing on those with pent-up demand, with the right message when they can't travel, but also supporting the push when the opportunity is right.

For Skyscanner, they have seen DMOs using Destination Connect, to provide 'the right' message and cut through a lot of the negative perceptions and keep passive inspiration alive, alongside those users booking and seeking inspiration. During the momentary opening up period during the European summer of 2020 has also proved very testing, with some key learnings which we can all grow from.

If we step aside from travel for a moment, we can see many similarities with the automotive industry where you must remain top-of-mind over time for your most loyal customers; we have a lot of data and knowledge on their preferences and we can continue speaking to their interests. We know that these people will travel again so keeping the destination and brands top-of-mind is key.

Some key considerations pointed out by Helena from ETraveli is to keep your Dynamic Product Ads (DPAs) straight is downscale the number of customer service systems you're using so you can streamline and achieve more effective communication with customers during this period. To be a full 360 view on data requires everyone to be versed in it, fully on board and ultimately completely aligned.

At Meliá, they started with the messaging 'we are ready when you are'. The next focus was on communicating what kind of experiences they can expect as they start to travel again. Thinking about first-party data, it is important to have a very well managed data management platform, to optimise and activate the communication and to go through the journey together with customers and also with all departments internally, ensuring teams are aligned with data.

Compliance is something which until now was seen as a very boring element of what we do: ultimately if you have ten different systems bringing up the same findings, you probably need to ask yourself how can react and solve the problem. Decisions on third-party cookies aren't easy to take and there are a lot of issues related to that, with different social logins and platforms and ultimately a distributed brand voice. There's a need to anticipate upcoming changes and the fact that each of those third-party organisations might have a different view on the situation; yet foreseeing what each one of those partners will do is not an easy situation.

In technology, we assume that everyone is talking day and night about the demise of third-party cookies and trying to see what's happening in this space. Yet, on the other hand, the general consumer simply doesn't see this.

Turning to the biggest lessons we can take into next year and beyond, José Luis notes that the market is more dynamic than ever. Today the situation is completely different from tomorrow's and this means that we must have all the systems in order (information, data and activation). If we don't have the right data and technology strategy, we're not able to communicate the right information to clients, apply the right level of flexibility or offer the right level of personalised messaging and transparency. We need to be completely customer-centric but also, important not to forget, we have to be hotel centric and ensure that we also continue to deliver the experience in the hotel itself, where we see things like sustainability being clear priorities for customers too.

At the end of the day, we are not just products but we are brands and it is very important to remind ourselves what is the core of this brand, what's the value we create for our customers.

Helena Sjögren points to three key things to keep in mind; know your numbers, know your data and make sure you put this data to action to steer your business. The other thing to consider is the need to embrace change, the landscape is changing all the time and we simply can't live how we used to: embrace change, encourage the organisation to embrace change and look at what is up next. Lastly, be open to creating strong partnerships and alliances as these are going to be key for a stronger and more successful future. Some of these relations have been strengthened through the pandemic and coming out the other side of this situation you will forever be appreciative of those partnerships that have been formed right now.

Closing off, James O'Leary reminds us that 2021 will still be a steep learning curve: we're not going to have all the answers and we shouldn't let that worry us. Surround yourselves with people who can help solve some of the problems, but don't forget that travellers are looking for transparency, trust and confidence. Travellers are going to become a lot more discerning in these areas and they aren't going to turn a blind eye to it. If we keep these things in check, the customers will come back, which is also why we must have a wider horizon too. Don't ignore 2022 either, as this is going to be a really important year to maximise the opportunity of recovery.


Key Takeaways

1. Know your numbers, know your data and make sure you put this data to action to steer your business.

2. Embrace change: the landscape is changing all the time and we simply can't live how we used to: embrace change, encourage the organisation to embrace change and look at what is up next.

3. Be open to creating strong partnerships and alliances as these are going to be key for a stronger and more successful future.

4. 2021 will still be a steep learning curve.

5. Surround yourselves with people who can help solve some of the problems

6. Don't forget that travellers are looking for transparency, trust and confidence.

7. Don't ignore 2022 either, as this is going to be a really important year to maximise the opportunity of recovery.

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Jose Luis Aranda

Jose Luis was working 8 years outside of Spain in digital agencies with a special focus on search engine marketing, social ads and display advertising, where he was able to improve his knowledge and gain a wide experience in the digital marketing world.

Sara Pastor

Sara Pastor has over 15 years of experience in technology, e-commerce and digital advertising with a special focus in the travel industry. She is leading the Destinations business in Europe at ADARA, after having managed the Commercial Director in Europe.

Toby Morris

Toby is a Sales Director for ADARA managing client relationships from across the UK, Ireland and Netherlands. He joined the company in September 2015.

Helena Sjogren

Helena is an expert in digital products and marketing, with more than 15 years of experience in the field. She's heading up data and identity possibilities in a post GDPR landscape at Europe's second-largest online travel agency, Etraveli Group

James O'Leary

For the past 5 years, James has worked at Skyscanner, now leading their Global partnerships with Destinations. James and his teams’ mission is to help Destinations leverage data, technology and product to re-shape their marketing strategies.