My Perspective After China: Data Sharing is Key to the Future Travel Experience.

My Perspective After China: Data Sharing is Key to the Future Travel Experience.

I’ve just recently spent a week in Hainan, China. I had the honor of speaking at the 14th Annual WTTC Global Summit on Big Data in the session titled “Staying Ahead of Tomorrow” (see the details here), sharing the stage with Travel and Tourism’s global leaders and industry influencers.

All of the speakers agreed that mobile and social are changing the travel industry and the expectations of travelers worldwide.   A large focus was placed on the growth of the Chinese market and the global impact that it will have on travel.  As I sat back each night to digest what I had heard throughout the day, it all came back to creating the new “travel experience.”  As the data geek that I am, I brought these issues and trends back to the basics – the data.  Just the fact that all of these new channels and opportunities provide us with a digital fingerprint and itinerary of the traveler, and if leveraged properly, the insight we can get from that data can change the travel experience forever.

There were a few segments during the Summit that basic questions were asked (1) why doesn’t the customs officer greet you with excitement that you’re visiting their country instead of acting as if his or her role is to keep you out of the country? (2) rental/shared cars are moving to digital so why do you need a gate agent? (3) why do we still have to provide a credit card at check in and check out?  Three very different points and three seemingly unrelated people that brought them up, however the reality is all part of the travelers experience.  Let’s imagine how these scenarios might work together – with shared data.

What if when you checked in at the airport for an international trip and swiped your passport, it would trigger a series of events? What if when you go to passport control, the agent not only knows what that ticket says, but where your final destination is and is able to have a friendly exchange with you?  If that same swipe of the passport also triggered the rental/share car that you have checked in for your flight.  That same information can also alert the car company and hotel if your flight has been delayed and by how long.  This way the car company can estimate when you should be using that code to pick up your car.  If then you enter the code to pick up the car, it will trigger information to your hotel so they know you are on your way.   The hotel can prepare for you or be ready for a call if you have trouble with directions.   This seamless flow of information is completely possible today and does not invade privacy, as each company along the path only receives the information they need to enhance their step of the travel experience, however the collective information creates a seamless and much more satisfying consumer engagement.

We’re at a critical time where data sharing will help us meet and hopefully exceed traveler expectations over the next 5-10 years.   One conference attendee approached me after my session and said that he believed the reason we are so resistant to share data is that it “disseminates our power.” That’s an interesting way to look at the situation.  But the reality is sharing information doesn’t diminish or disseminate any one company’s power, it actually makes them stronger because by sharing information they can improve transition points for the traveler, which are key aspects of the experience, and focus on using data to elevate their product performance!