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Expedia, Orbitz harness Big Data for next-generation mobile booking

January 30, 2014

The Expedia iPhone app

Travel-related businesses Expedia, Orbitz and others are at the forefront of leveraging Big Data to create next-generation mobile experiences as they look to drive more bookings from smartphone and tablet users.

The travel industry quickly recognized the potential in mobile to enhance the experience for travelers and reaped the rewards as a result, with many travel companies seeing a significant percentage of their bookings coming from mobile. With basic mobile booking table stakes at this point, many are now delving deeper into their treasure troves of data to uncover new mobile features and services they hope travelers will view as the next must-have travel service.

“Everyone from the hotels to the airlines should be focused on improving the overall customer experience through mobile services,” said Julie Ask, San Francisco-based vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“Both airlines and hotels and others in the broader ecosystem have created API’s both for internal use and for third-party use to pull data and serve it up to consumers,” she said.

“This isn’t a question of airlines or hotels now serving customers well — those that travel are an attractive customer base who make intense use of their mobile phones for travel-related services — especially on the day of travel. Every entity in the travel ecosystem would like to be indispensable.”

Hotel rates heat map
A report last fall from Amadeus highlighted how Big Data can help the travel industry better meet customer needs by improving decision-making, driving product and service innovation and enhancing customer relationships. The report also urges travel companies to act quickly to take advantage of this important opportunity.

Orbitz and Expedia are two of the companies leading the way in leveraging data to create unique mobile experiences.

For example, Orbitz this month introduced the new Orbitz Labs page to test a series of new tools, and the ones that that resonate with customers will be incorporated into the Orbitz mobile and desktop booking engines.

One tool gives users a way to search for historic hotel rates by booking date so they can determine when is the best time to book a hotel and get the cheapest rate. A hotel rates heat map depicts similar information in graphical form.

An animated map displays daily flight searches on Orbitz.

There are also tools designed to help customers book last-minute flights and hotel rooms for cities where major sporting events are being held. Called the Big Game Flight Finder and the Big Game Hotel Finder, these appear particularly well suited for mobile, with many airlines and hotels reporting growth in last-minute bookings from mobile.

Analyzing booking patterns
Leveraging data is also behind several new features introduced this month by Expedia on its mobile apps and desktop site called Flight Recommendations, Scratchpad and Itinerary Sharing.

With Expedia’s research showing that people search 48 times across travel sites before making a flight booking, Flight Recommendations is meant to simplify the process by analyzing customer travel and booking patterns to provide searchers with a list of alternative routes that might appeal to them.

When customers perform a search, they will be able to compare their query results to others with similar searches that have one or two parameters changed. Expedia expects this could help customers quickly find cheaper or more convenient travel solutions.

Scratchpad lets users store their searches and easily come back to them at a later time or send the content to their email. For logged-in users, searches can be started on one device and completed on another, with the content available across devices.

Itinerary Sharing enables customers to share their itinerary via email, AirDrop, text message or Facebook. When sharing an itinerary with someone who is also an Expedia mobile user, that person can also receive push notifications about delays and landing time for the traveler.

The next generation of mobile travel-related services will use data to create highly contextual experiences and to begin to anticipate customers’ needs.

“An airline, for example, knows my flight time,” Ms. Ask said. “Based on that flight time, and maybe even my location, they can anticipate my needs and serve them up to me in appropriate mobile moments.

“If I am one hour before my next flight, it’s unlikely I want to make my next reservation – more likely I need a seat, upgrade or food,” she said.

“With the use of context, travel apps will begin to anticipate my needs and take action for me — like rebooking a flight or changing the pick-up time for my ride from the airport or my check in time at the hotel.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily

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