The travel data is in: 92.5% men and 7.5% women

Last week I attended the EyeforTravel Smart Travel Data Summit in Amsterdam. It was a well-attended event that helped move the needle in the right direction, when it comes to using data to better personalize digital travel for consumers.

There was an array of talented speakers who each contributed to the tapestry of travel data usage, from advanced revenue management to machine learning personalization.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Steve Sherlock, CEO of Pablow.

A few speaker highlights:

Joerg Esser (Thomas Cook) the theoretical physicist, talked about the human desire to figure things out and the need to peel back the layers to find simplicity for consumers.

Paul van Meerendonk (IDeaS) emphasized that real-time optimization is what it’s all about, and required each team within an organization to look at the same data, as opposed to data silos.

Dimitris Hiotis (Simon-Kucher Partner) encouraged group participation during the psychology of pricing workshop and stressed the importance of creative-minded employees working with data-minded employees to optimize efficiency.

Carlos Sanchez (CWT) argued that experiencing products transcend the product itself. Why show me 160 prices when I only want one? Data today is about finding the needle in a haystack, as 99% of the data is irrelevant.

Jan Krasnodebski (Expedia) shared that segmentation is the main driver for personalization at Expedia, as opposed to one-to-one personalization achieved by Facebook, Amazon and Google, which is derived from access to more in-depth and personal data.

When it comes to machine learning, Krasnodebski explained that recommendations on travel websites are based on the following factors: location (also the segmentation driver for personalization), region, review rating, sentiment, value for money, length of stay, family type, and culture.

Additionally, he conceded that Expedia does use commission level in their recommendation algorithm, though it’s not a major factor and advertisers can’t “buy their way to the top” like on Google.

Finally, he cautioned against trying to personalize too much (i.e. congratulating travelers on an anniversary but it turns out to be a funeral trip, which is very hard to know)

The final highlight was Alessandra Di Lorenzo ( who would like to ban the word “Big Data” and replace it with “data that is actionable.”

I agree! The phrase “Big Data” is mostly used by guys with small … imaginations.

Di Lorenzo detailed how it goes about creating taxonomies, effectively turning cookies into a profile (i.e. Jane is 32, loves outdoor sports, and travels twice a year to beach destinations).  Among the most important factors in the taxonomies include:

Social demographic – age, gender, buying power, culture

Travelers – weekend, holiday, family, couples, kids, infants, number of nights, airline, credit card, email address

Pause for thought

Did you notice that from the names I mentioned above there was only one woman? What struck me most, and irreconcilably so, was the extreme lack of female representation amongst the summit’s speakers and attendees.

Out of the 40 speakers over two days, only three were women. How is this possible?

My goal for attending the conference was to gain insights into how to better segment and personalize travel related products to delight consumers. Since entering the travel industry I’ve realized that if we don’t speak to the traveler’s emotions, their mood, their culture, and how they feel subconsciously at the time of travel planning, then we are missing the sweet spot.

Sorry fellas, but this level of subtlety can’t be left to men in white lab jackets, who describe themselves as nerds. Data scientists are only part of the puzzle, albeit an important part, but not the most important. Our data scientists must work with creatives, anthropologists and comedians!

Let’s go back to the basics.

The brain is made of three distinct parts: lower, mid and upper. As Oren Klaff emphasized in his book Pitch Anything, we pitch ideas from our upper brain (neocortex) and we assume the recipient receives the message in that part of the brain, but in reality, it’s the lower primitive brain, that receives the message and will decide whether or not to send it up the chain of cognition.

“If it’s not novel or dangerous it gets ignored”, so if we want our message to get traction with other people we need to cater to the lower brain first.

My contention is that we need more diversity in thought and gender if we want to exponentially improve the digital interaction with travelers. We need artists, comedians and data scientists from both genders to be involved.

If we can tap into the emotional state of a person when they take specific actions, then we may have a set of different responses for consumers to consider. If we truly want to personalize travel we need diversity in personality, thought, culture and gender.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Steve Sherlock, CEO of Pablow.

NB2: Image by Krisdog via BigStock

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