“What customers want is communication, information and control.”
The statement came from Dara Brady, Ryanair’s head of digital experience at recent keynote address to an EyeforTravel audience in London. He was sharing his insights, into how Ryanair, like all other brands, is trying to play a more active role in the online travel customer journey.
The ‘communication’ piece is, of course, is being driven by the rise of mobile, while ‘information’ relates to ‘big data’ and how brands harness it to deliver real-time personal and relevant travel information and offers. The third part – control – well, that’s about the customer who today owns the journey.
As Guy Stephenson, CCO, Gatwick Airport puts it: “In a digital world, the customer owns himself. The power lies with the consumer.”
Even Ryanair, notorious for its poor customer relations, has recognised this and completed a strategic volte-face in the past 18 months to two years. In doing so, it has put mobile, data and the customer firmly at the centre of its business goals.
Whether Ryanair has this three-pronged approach or inclement weather to thank, the strategy seems to be paying off and in October the airline saw half-year after tax profits rise by 37% on revenues of £4bn.
On mobile: apps aren’t everything
On mobile there isn’t much to say other than to state the obvious: that if you don’t have a focused and measurable strategy in place you’re in trouble. The industry knows this and in 2014, 70% of travel executives, according to EyeforTravel research, had planned to increase investment in mobile.
No doubt that figure is rising and for those getting it right, investments are beginning to pay off. IHG, for example, one of the first hotel brands to take a mobile booking, has seen mobile revenues rise from$148m in 2012 to $1bn this year. With mobile expected to account for 40% of all e-commerce transactions by year-end this upward trajectory is expected to continue.
However, while mobile is strategically important, the path to conversion is getting longer and travellers are using more devices and different sites to compare offers. So, the ability to study customer behaviour and understand what role different channels and devices play in the purchase path is difficult. On this score, there is more work to do.
“There are a limited number of solutions available to address this,” says Breffni Horgan, Head Mobile & Product at Hostelworld, who explains that some are technical solutions that require investment, while others tend to negatively impact the customer experience with login-walls and so on.
Clearly, however, multi-device behaviour should not be ignored, and Tom Valentine, CCO of the fast-growing luxury hotel closed user group, Secret Escapes, has this warning: “If I see another mobile agency case study saying that the users who download the app are more valuable, I will shoot myself and probably the person delivering it.”
On data: a single source of information is needed
Today many brands have recognised that sharing data, providing the right partnerships and agreements are in place, is good a thing. Because wherever the customer is accessing it, what they want is reliable information; they expect booking apps and websites to be able to work with different providers of services. APIs are one way to do this.