Ai Editorial: Personalising destination discovery – an opportunity for airlines

First Published on 1st June, 2018

Ai Editorial: Destination discovery and associated experiences is one area where airlines haven’t excelled in a big way. Airlines need to play their part in shortening the research phase of leisure travellers, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  


Travel suppliers, including airlines, are looking at various issues to have a say early in the booking funnel. This way passengers would have a stronger brand affiliation, plus the probability of targeting the “second wallet” would go up.  

For this to work a lot of introspection is needed. Some of the issues that are being contemplated are:

·          If booking a flight isn’t only about price and destination but also timing (say weekend vs. weekdays) and social context (family, individual, colleagues etc.), then how the same is reflecting on an airline-owned channel?

·          Are travellers “converting” faster on platforms such as when compared with an airline or a hotel site?

·          What is the likelihood of a traveller opening an app from Google or a 3rd party app rather than the airline they flew with when they arrive at a destination?

Destination discovery

When a user ends up on an airline-owned site, there is an immediate need to come to grips with one aspect – what is the traveller looking for? Is it a leisure trip or a “bleisure” one? The ideal situation would be to generate enough data within your own user ecosystem to truly understand where and why people are planning to travel.

Airlines have to focus on pre-booking engagement. The options presented to the user shouldn’t be merely about “where to go” (what if this option doesn’t come into the picture in the first interaction at all!).

“Airlines have had poor representation in this arena (the pre-booking phase) and have handed over the advantage to 3rd party sites,” said Matt Walker, Chief Storyteller, LikeWhere.

And when the main curators of the pre-booking phase happen to be players like Google, Facebook etc., the threat of these players going deeper into the booking funnel is worth noticing.

“We (airlines) are past the stage of avoiding them (Google, Facebook etc.) altogether,” said a source. “Airlines have to focus on their brands and their platform strategy to have a bigger say. The likes of Ryanair, Southwest…haven’t relied on Google in a big way. Association with Google can’t be overlooked, especially for certain areas, but direct engagement needs to be focused upon as well. Being dependent on 3rd parties is a problem, the future is dark then.” 

The art of recommending it right

“What is the consumer actually consuming – is it car hire, airline tickets, hotels etc. or experiences in a destination?,” questioned an executive. “Clearly destination discovery and associated experiences is one area where airlines haven’t focused upon, and even if they have via say a white label travel publisher, it hasn’t really shortened the research phase of leisure travellers or enabled them to get closer to taking a decision regarding their destination, the experiences they would like to indulge in and subsequently the likelihood of booking with airlines.”

This is where companies like LikeWhere are stepping in, trying to build a bond with travellers via knowing about them “on the fly” (even without any previous history of knowing them). So the core idea is to offer what is being termed as “smart travel content”. It is presented by a layer of intelligence that ensures that the content shown would complement a traveller’s likings.

“Lifestyle preferences and lifecycle timing are the two metrics of customer relevance in digital,” says Walker.

LikeWhere focuses on personalising destination discovery and eventually enables airlines to position themselves for the main booking/ancillaries. 

As for how LikeWhere does it, Walker refers to the onboarding process that could last 15 seconds or so, akin to the Netflix does to its users. A user wouldn’t start with typical “from” to “to” tabs, rather share interests/ preferences and then recommendations would ensue. “We ask you about neighborhoods (specific places) in your city, and that accesses our own meta-data. When say 5-10 lifestyle preferences of a user are identified, these are matched to neighborhoods across the world. Once we establish certain parameters with a customer we use machine learning to add value, through informing more contextual recommendations,” shared Walker. “We analyze cities, interpret how they feel in human terms, then match the right location to the right customer.”

Is it too late?

If one searches for “ATP World Tour Finals 2018 London”, which is scheduled to take place from 11-18 November, there is no simple way to book around a complete trip including tickets for matches, hotel, airline ticket etc. It remains a fragmented experience. There are attractive packages for the tournament – hospitality packages, private suite at the venue but nothing more. A site,, came close to offering a travel package but the link didn’t work! This was after browsing top 10 links on Google. So a disjointed shopping experience continues. It is worth watching how travel technology specialists crack this conundrum. Also, since airlines didn’t figure in the search on the first page, how many airlines are in a position to understand that a traveller is visiting London for a reason and offer a relevant package? So in this case, an airline should target the purpose of the trip, come up with suggestions/ tips that enhance the stay and then inch towards the first part of the booking, which could be an airline ticket or even the main experience that the customer is looking for.

Other than content, airline can also bank on the devices being used. For instance, the mobile phone is a highly personal device, and offers an opportunity to capitalize on certain innate features, such as location. Also, as mobile becomes the primary device and since users don’t like to search on it (easy to mistype, to make mistakes), airlines have to preempt what users are likely looking for, based on their context, and bring them relevant content from the moment they access their devices. Based on the intelligence garnered from the device, plus a host of other signals, one can expect a suggestion for a dinner (say the app is opened at 7pm, so the first recommendation is triggered according to the context).

Airlines need to increase the width of your funnel to allow for a higher quality of user engagement. This can happen earlier on in the booking process. The "engine room" of search and booking may be tough to change from the outside-in. That doesn't mean that airlines can't experiment today with new layers which broaden the funnel and increase loyalty.

Hear from experts and assess the journey of airlines at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific (Ancillary, Loyalty and Co-Brand Conferences) to be held in Bangkok, Thailand (28-30 August, 2018).

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