Remember when local travel agencies were so popular? Clearly, times have changed, and most of us now arrange travel online. However, besides its ease, it could also mean that we might not be the ones picking our travel destination in five years time: AI will do it for us, based on our data, that we provide now.
While making travel arrangements, you use online hotel booking platforms, online car rental agencies, and book your plane tickets with airlines, again, online. The question rises: in the GDPR era, how are these platforms coping with personal data for the purpose of improving the customer experience, and what will it mean for us, the customers?
Today the likes of Booking.com, Expedia, Skyscanner, are major disruptors on the travel market - will they remain so? As always, the key to a smooth booking experience is personal data: in the multitude of booking options, one needs a guide. A guide that helps us select the right destination, the best sights to visit, and our favourite foods to eat.
For instance, if you hate early flights, and prefer to stay right in the city centre, that’s extremely relevant information. As is whether you travel for business or leisure. If you like to fly or travel by train, and if you prefer chain hotels to local bed and breakfasts. The key to serving you the most optimal way is knowing about your travel habits and preferences. This enables online travel agencies to do away with options that are irrelevant to you.
Booking.com and Trivago may learn about your destinations, but they do not cover the full travel experience. Therefore they may have a competitive disadvantage compared to integrated booking platforms, such as Expedia. But even Expedia doesn’t have the day to day knowledge about you that for instance Facebook, Apple, or Google has, and the information you post there, can also be relevant to your travel needs.
Let’s take a closer look at one of these: Google. Google has several dedicated services directed towards travel, notably Google Flights, google.com/travel, Google Maps, and a hotel search engine. Some of these are integrated into Google Maps, which also provides access to restaurant and sight reviews. Thus, Google is gradually moving towards an integrated booking approach, serving you in all aspects of your travel experience.
Your future booking experience
What will the future look like? Big tech companies might very well become major players of the travel industry. Based on your own personal data about past travel behaviour and interests, aggregated data about perceived quality and aggregated travel patterns, these companies would be in an ideal position to offer you the best routing, accommodation and experiences. This would also make the user’s life easier by taking away much of today’s work in searching for individual components.
In the future, every aspect of your trip may be suggested up-front as a complete package (flights, hotels, etc), with the possibility to book and pay for the whole itinerary and experiences at once. This would obviously put the platform that makes these suggestions in an incredibly powerful position, especially since it takes full control over the whole booking process and is therefore in a position to influence your behaviour and choices, and optimise its own revenue and profits.
Today, hotel booking platforms show the hotels that pay the highest commission fees as the first results of your search. You really have to make an effort to factor that out in the ranking of results, but usually you still can do so. That will become a lot harder when the booking process gets optimised on the basis of personal preferences. It will be virtually impossible for you to follow how an itinerary was chosen, and if that was based on your preferences or on the kickback received by the platform you use.
So what’s next?
Today’s travel industry may well be perfectly in line with the GDPR in terms of not processing more personal data than they need to, in order to be able to offer their services. However, big tech has a serious opportunity of entering this vertical. They know much more about you than current online travel agencies do. As in many industries, personal data are key to offering a personalised booking and travel experience.
As much as it is a business opportunity, personalisation is also a threat to one’s privacy and the GDPR may be called upon to restrict the reuse of personal data for booking and traveling experiences. If the future of travel is in automated, is a personalised travel design that you only have to say OK to is something we want? Or is a lot of the pleasure of traveling in its preparation, finding new exciting places to visit?