Social networks and the gift of relevance in travel products
World-weary person thinks:
I want to take a break from it all and travel!
The bank account says:
Where, to the park across the street? (that's literally all you can afford)
This is a popular joke doing the rounds on the internet, but it accurately describes a significant demographic. It surely hurts when you really want to travel, know where you want to go, but then realize that circumstances are not favorable either financially, or logistically. But to a sharp travel marketer, this isn't a lost customer, but rather a temporarily dormant lead that may be re-activated under the right conditions.
Leisure travel is often an expensive affair and some groups of customers/prospects don't always find it affordable to realize their dreams. While there may be no regional standard for this, it is common wisdom that financial models may need to be restructured to cater to millennials and Generation Z – or the freshest entrants in the workforce at all ages – so as to improve affordability of travel products. This is important because, as per a Reuters report, Gen Z alone spends $44 billion a year, and influence an additional $600 billion in household spending in the US (which is the biggest market for travel) alone.
The 4 As of travel and the PhoTra app
It isn't so long ago that a small team of professionals from our company made waves at the IATA NDC Hackathon with a little app called PhoTra. You right click on an image you see on the internet and choose the "Wish I was there" option, and the app immediately identifies the location depicted, and instantly comes up with an itinerary to help you get there.
In a simple and incredibly effective manner, the app brings together 4 As that are essential for any purchase, including a travel transaction, to materialize.
Aspiration – The traveler must have a desire or a specific need (in some form) to undertake the travel
Availability – A suitable travel product must be readily available, or it must be feasible to create one
Accessibility – The traveller must be able to comply with, or otherwise address any prerequisites for the available travel product, such as age limits, health metrics, legal clearances and other factors which can take different forms and shapes
Affordability – Like any purchase, the intended traveller must have some source of financing for the travel product
Each of the 4 As represents a possible leakage point from the travel pipeline, at which the planning will cease to progress and reach a successful culmination of making the travel transaction.
A tweak in the model: Disconnecting the four As
The strength of the above mentioned model counts most when these four aspects are integrated into a single individual – the traveller. It is up to him/her to resolve any conflicts or shortcomings that would hamper the travel transaction. When one or more of the factors are beyond the control of this single individual, he/she either drops away from the pipeline or stays stagnant. The most obvious and tangible among these, perhaps, is affordability.
For the purpose of focus, let's consider affordability as the key to this revised model. In other words, let's explore how this would be of help to a person who has everything else in place, except the finances, for undertaking his/her dream journey. Say a newly married couple who cannot afford an expensive honeymoon, but may have friends or relatives who may wish to gift them a honeymoon travel package. Effectively, they solve the affordability problem for the couple, who are now stronger than ever in their presence on the pipeline.
But the question is, how exactly can this be implemented? It would, of course, begin with a travel reservations platform where the benefactors (those who give the gift) start looking for travel packages to fit their budget and what they imagine would be the travelling couple's preferences. But how accurate would the preferences information be, when it is based on guesses? The best way to solve this problem is to connect this travel reservations platform to a reliable source of data about the traveler couple.
Value add of a social platform
Social networks, like Facebook, thanks to their penetration into people's lives and their level of access to information, are perhaps the most viable platforms to implement such a model. Once a user tags a prospective travel destination as some place which he/she would like to visit in future, this information opens up the pipeline for third party participation. Now, this isn't as broad or open as it may seem initially, because there are strict access control and visibility levels implemented in these platforms, which may be harnessed for this purpose. The third party, in such a restricted environment, may include the benefactors who are seeking insights into the recipient's preferences.
An effective app in this sense would not only capture the traveler's personal preferences, but also help the benefactor (whoever is gifting the package) eliminate options based on whether the travelers have been to that particular destination before – through examining the history of check-ins and possibly analyzing image location data.
Conclusion: The gift of relevance
Such a system is, of course, heavily dependent on how open and truthful people are on social networks. There is no need for a one-to-one connection; that means the traveler needn't directly be aware that he/she is providing information that led to the gifting of a more relevant travel package, nor is it actually a single channel transaction. Decisions will be made by collating a variety of inputs, and information given today may fructify into a relevant offering much later.
Ultimately, this will not only improve travel volumes, but also makes transactions more relevant. For instance, are people travelling to the destinations they wish to visit, or just what they can afford? Over time, this would yield valuable insights into leisure travel. Investments would be made into travel products that are more relevant to the people of different demographics, thereby bringing in greater efficiency into the entire value chain.