Smart use of data gives the right message along the customer journey, says James Ross, head of planning at SYZYGY

When the great and good of the industry descended on Google’s London HQ for Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Selling conference, Thomas Cook remained a hot topic for delegates.

However, it became apparent that there is still uncertainty about what role tech and digital play in travel versus the human touch. In a nutshell, Thomas Cook failed to modernise and adapt to changing customer behaviours and the disruption brought on by the likes of Expedia and Booking.com.

There was a consensus that the personal touch customers get from booking through a human travel agent cannot be replicated online. One panelist cited a New Zealand agency where customers booked three years’ worth of holidays in one interaction. The secret to this success? Wine and cheese evenings.

Despite the undeniable rise of online bookings, it is not unusual for travel bosses to harbour cynicism around ‘shiny new technology’. Many just see tech as an over-hyped asset. The point many of these leaders often miss is the challenge of scalability. Cheese and wine evenings are beneficial to smaller operators, but how would global businesses like easyJet, Flight Centre or Tui replicate something to that scale? Technology may be more transactional, but it appeals to multiple interactions and touch points, while also providing personalisation at scale.

We recently conducted research into how UK consumer confidence in booking future travel has been affected over the last twelve months. Of the 1,000 UK leisure travelers surveyed, 32% were reconsidering the cost of their next holiday, and a further 29% admitted Brexit had affected their choice of destination. Interestingly, Brexit uncertainty isn’t evenly distributed in the UK. The figures also showed that it is most impacting lower income families outside of London.

How to respond to this uncertainty? Adapt to survive. The data proves there is no better time to adopt new innovations to survive periods of slow customer bookings. Armed with relevant consumer insights like this, travel agents will have the confidence to adapt their marketing strategies and offerings to appeal to their customers’ current needs.

Away from travel, Specsavers used insights about its customer base to transform its Audiology hearing loss brand. It identified a need to increase the number of new audiologist appointments from over 55-year olds across the UK and worked with us on a digital-first approach to drive scale and growth.

Using the right data and technology in combination is a powerful force and knowing how and when to use it can super charge positive customer experiences. Even more pressing for the travel industry is the need for all employees to understand how new tech innovations can enable them to deliver enhanced human experiences. When firms use data smartly to target the right message to the right person at every point of the customer journey, they can add more value and relevancy to each interaction.

Technology is an essential part of every travel businesses’ infrastructure, but employees are the most important drivers of successful digital transformation in a company. The human approach required to get on board with a company’s cultural shift towards new technology is the same one that is needed to deliver the revered ‘human touch’ to customers. Travel businesses need to begin to treat their online offering as a combination of digital assets that will help to shape a blueprint for their future success. With the foundations of a digital framework already in place, the task of experimenting with which shiny new tech tools will meet specific customer needs will prove rewarding for human travel agents – and their digitally savvy customers.