Let us say that you are new to working in the travel industry and you are hearing a lot of unfamiliar industry-related terms. They seem to flutter around in your brain like a flock of agitated canaries. Let’s look at one of the more important terms, “Big Data,” and help you learn about what it is and why it matters to the travel industry.


What Is Big Data?

Although there are a number of ways of describing Big Data, the most common overall description comes from an industry observer’s quote in Forbes as “data that exceeds the processing capacity of conventional database systems. The data is too big, moves too fast, or doesn’t fit the strictures of your database architectures.”

Industry leaders and analysts have been talking about “big data” since the 1990s. They describe big data as having or being comprised of three primary components: velocity, volume, and variety.

  • Velocity: data now travels at unprecedented speeds thanks to the many ways it can be gathered and transmitted.  In the travel industry, data is captured and transmitted from many sources including RFID tags, hand-held scanners, tracking systems that capture data about what people search for online, and the like. The challenge to the travel or any other industry is how to sort, study, and make sense of this data as rapidly.
  • Volume: new data storage systems mean that tremendous volumes of data can not only be rapidly collected, but also stored. The challenge here is how to effectively utilize analytic tools to determine relevance within those large data volumes and create value from the data harvested.
  • Variety: travel data comes in all types of formats including numeric data, text documents, audio/video data, and financial transactions.

Why It Matters

The airline industry is credited with being one of the earliest utilizers of big data. In more recent years, and with the significant drop in data storage costs, airlines have been able to collect and store vast amounts of data and effectively analyse the data to recognize – and enhance – customer value.  Particularly, big data-based analytics reveal how airlines can better cultivate high-value customers.

The travel industry and travel agencies are also learning to leverage big data, pulling together booking information from transaction systems, customer service information, and information on web and mobile information. This gathered data helps the industry generate a “consolidated view of the customer,” and formulate action steps to convert more on-site visitors to clients, increase customer loyalty, and secure more revenue.


Big Data Sources

Big data for the travel industry is harvested from:

  • Transactional data: this includes the invoices, storage records and deliveries, and payment orders for travel transactions.
  • Machine data: information gathered from systems that track online searching and purchasing behaviour.
  • Social media data: comments shared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.

The ability to harvest, store, and more effectively analyse this data means that travel agents can more easily customize travel experiences for their clients. Instead of generic travel packages, agents can recommend client-targeted accommodations, travel networks, and services that more directly meet their clients’ travel needs and interests. This is not just personalization, it is now extensive personalization.

Travel agents used to spend countless hours researching transportation, accommodations, tours, and special services – first by sifting through printed material, then gradually through the increasingly powerful Internet. Thanks to evolving travel technology, this process is not only accelerated but produces results that can be totally customizable for the client.

Imagine the power of rapidly aggregating data from multiple sources and extrapolating client-unique content that can help the office – or online-based travel agent to deliver the right message and services at the right time!

Big data is seen as one of the major forces in the evolution of the travel industry. However, the value and success of big data in the travel industry will most likely correlate with agents’ ability to successfully utilize that data so that it leads to an increased conversion rate of website visitors into action-taking, satisfied clients.