Friday 27 July 2012

The importance of understanding the new socially enabled ‘Visual Web’

The number of photos shared on the web is exploding.  On Facebook alone, the average number of photos uploaded per day is 300 million (and with their acquisition of Instagram, this is only set to increase!).

What does this mean for travel brands?  Well, people love taking photos of their travel experiences and as travel becomes ever-more social, they are now instantly sharing images of the every element of their travel experience across their social networks.

So what’s driving this key trend?

You may have recently seen that a recent Mintel report found Digital camera sales to have decreased by 29% over the past five years.  But as Dirk Singer, Founder of TheRabbit Agency, told listeners in a recent EyeforTravel webinar, this is due to the fact that the cameras now found on most smartphones are (arguably) just as good as entry level digital cameras.

Travellers are of course by nature on the move so the rise in smartphone cameras combined with the growth of photo sharing networks such as Instagram (80 million users), Pinterest (over 11 million unique users per week) and Flickr (500 million registered users) is fuelling the phenomenon of the new ‘visual web’ or ‘imagesphere’.

The socially-enabled visual web provides a fantastic opportunity for travel brands to reach, inspire and engage new customers.   

As the old adage says ‘a picture tells a 1,000 words’.  Images enable the new time poor travel consumer to absorb a large amount of data about your destination/hotel/airline in a short amount of time.   Combine this with the social reach – and, let’s face it, we’ve all been sat in the office and seen that dreamy image of a sun drenched pool pop-up in your friends latest status update - and you are onto a winner. 

Dirk identified this key opportunity for visual engagement early on and led both the BMI and bmibaby social media campaigns on Pinterest and Instagram respectively.

For the budget airline bmibaby, they facilitated a series of ‘instameets’ exchange programmes where Instagram community members were invited to destinations  to participate in a photo walk around their city and post and share their experiences from the day with other members of the network, producing inspiring content from cities around the world.

The representatives live photo blogged from the exchange whilst the bmibaby team reported directly from the bmibaby Instagram feed, Twitter and Facebook throughout the weekend.

The result was 50,000 unique pieces of visual content, extensive media coverage and a number of awards for the campaigns.   Not bad!

To find out more about the visual web and how you can get involved with it, you can watch Dirk’s presentation here

In addition, I’m really looking forward to Naomi Bustin’s (Senior Communication Executive at bmibaby) presentation on how to get the most out of Instagram and other emerging social networks at EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing, Mobile & Social Media in Travel Summit, 3-4 October in Amsterdam.

The visual web looks set to continue grow in importance for travel brands so get involved now!  There are a number of ways in which you can encourage your customers to share their travel experiences – especially on-site during their stay.  Ushuaia Ibiza Beach hotel is a great example 

 As usual, we’ll be keeping you up-to-date with further case studies on

Wednesday 18 July 2012

What’s Apple Plotting?

It’s been an interesting week of power plays, Machiavellian manoeuvring and plot twists for the travel and tech world; Yahoo! pilfers a top Google exec, Apple ‘friends’ Facebook, turns its back on Google and plants a firm flag into the online travel business,  leaving many wondering just what are they up to?

After much speculation, fanfare and good ol’ fashioned rumour mongering, it now seems that Apple has crystalized their intentions towards the online travel industry by unveiling its Passbook app. This app will be built-in to the iOS 6 for next-gen Apple devices and is the latest in a series of patents linked to Apple’s much vaunted iTravel system. In essence, both enable iPhones and iPads to store all necessary travel information (identity, e-tickets, flight info & notifications) manage their trips (check-in, track luggage, receipts, frequent flyer and loyalty accounts) as well as will utilize NFC technology iWallet to purchase flights, hotels and upgrades. With all this functionality housed in a single pre-installed app in devices which command roughly 60% of the overall smartphone and tablet market, it’s easy to envisage how Apple could steal a massive chunk of the online travel pie.

In a move that mirrors Google’s 2011 dive into the online travel industry, this is a statement of intent that leaves little doubt that Apple is eager to follow suit and leap-frog Google’s hotel finder and flight search. Apple is yet to comment or even announce the iTravel project but it is safe to say this blueprint will have many a fat cat scrambling to the war room. What is less certain is exactly how Apple will pull this off and who is standing in their way.

Here are few fanciful / ill thought-out scenarios;

A company with a market cap of $600 billion could simply buy its way into the market by acquiring a major OTA, GDS or metasearch player to power search and booking capabilities or it could partner with selected suppliers and TMCs who would be eager to tap into Apple’s enormous global consumer base. Providing inventory to iTravel would earn brands unprecedented visibility and allow them to slash their app development and marketing costs as well as reduce dependency on the big G and other intermediaries. But at what cost? iTravel would essentially be akin to partnering with Priceline or Expedia and will likely come with a hefty commission fees and stringent pricing terms and conditions. 

Any airline or Hotelier would also be loath to surrender their hard earned/bought customers to yet another intermediary but they might not have the choice as iTravel is a far more elegant ‘all-in-one’ travel tool which will be pre-loaded into all iOS devices, starting with the launch of the iPhone 5 this autumn. Even more brilliant is the fact that Passbook will be available by download on all ipads and from iPhone 3s onwards. That means that in one fell swoop, Apple will be able to launch the app service to it’s 370 million iOS customers, most of who’s payment details they will already own.

Another interesting turn is Apple collaborating with popular consumer websites such as Yelp and OpenTable for the next version of Siri Search. This in effect will provide a socially contextualized alternative to Google search and Voice Search and reinforce Siri as a trusted concierge and go-to resource for ‘casual search’.

Perhaps more indicative of the growing cold war between the former allies is the exclusion of Google maps and Streetview from iOS 6. Apple has taken great pains to replace this with its own cartography and geo-location technology called Flyover view (allegedly powered by TomTom) which boasts turn by turn directions as well as traffic warnings, weather notifications and travel advice. With the iPhone 5 Apple has not just kicked Google out the party, it has also jumped into bed with mutual rival Facebook, presumably to cosy up with the company’s 800 million active users. The iPhone 5 will be heavily integrated with Facebook to make it easier to share contacts, photos, calendars, music via Spotify and all the other social bells and whistles. With the budding NFC and mobile advertising industries poised for huge growth, the stakes could not be higher, or more lucrative.

What is clear is that under new CEO Tim Cook, Apple is headed in a bold and ambitious new direction that will have many travel companies rubbing their palms, scratching their heads - or banging them on a the nearest wall. I’d be very interested to hear some industry perspectives of this so do please weigh-in and let us know - Apple: Friend of Foe?

By Marco Saio
Director of International Research & Projects
EyeforTravel Ltd

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Wednesday 4 July 2012

Why is big data such a big deal for travel?

The term “big data” has been thrown around the travel industry like a dark shadow of woe for the last twelve months. So what exactly is so super-size about the “Voldemort” of the digital age, he who shall not be named or spoken about openly?  I have been researching Big Data for the last few weeks, with specific regard to travel. The purpose of this blog post is to break it down for those of you who, like me, have never crunched a number in their working life.

So. Big Data. First port of call, the glittering star of the internet: Wikipedia, which describes the term as: “ In information technology, big data is a loosely-defined term used to describe data sets so large and complex that they become awkward to work with using on-hand database management tools. Difficulties include capture, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.”

First and foremost- an understanding of the basic premise is required and a good way to showcase this is through a sample:

Company X in 1995
Records simple transactional data only (offline and online) Approx 0.5 TB data stored.
Company X in 2012
Records social media, transactional, CRM, search, profiling and multiple types of data, over 95% of which is online. Approx 1 PB data.

So how does company X cope with such astounding levels of data and how can it be better managed? Well. Back in the 90’s, 1 TB of data was vast. Having data of that size automatically made you a member of the Terabyte Club (and that club was very small and very elite indeed). Now, you can buy a 1 TB data storage device for around $100 USD at a local retailer. In the meantime, even small data warehouses have exceeded data storage levels of 1 Petabyte (that is 1 quadrillion bytes if you’re wondering).  According to reports, big data is a game changer for all industries because having such enormous quantities of stored data can enable a company to better analyse and better forecast. These assumptions are based on (of course), if you can manage the data properly: Here are the exciting prospects of the big data phenomenon:

1.       Big data introduces large scale data diversity, complexity and velocity. Accuracy is the key contender as to why Big Data rules all. This isn’t singular or grouped transactional data. This is every piece of data you have ever had, at your fingertips. Patterns will be more obvious and more precise.
2.       Forecasting: Reporting, analysis and ground-breaking evaluations to help you step ahead of your competitors.
3.       Integrating your singular pricing, CRM and social systems into a super-system: where you know your hotel visitor has a Klout score of 83%, has stayed with you once since 2007, and complained about you on TripAdvisor. You know they searched for you on and which of your competitors they turned down. You also have the capacity to group together customers with similar behavioural patterns and target them with specific, tailored marketing.
4.       Real-time opportunities: Big Data structuring offers a user the chance to export data by the millions in a miniscule timeframe making it near-enough real-time. This is particularly relevant for picking out unusual patterns in landscapes such as casinos and entertainment parks and dealing with them immediately on-site.

So- you now see the opportunities when it comes to utilizing Big Data, but why is it so hard to implement and get our heads around?

1.       Storage and organisation: To accurately use Big Data requires different set up and different mechanics. You don’t need an analyst, you need what is fondly known in the data world as a “power user.” Someone who knows absolutely everything there is to know about data. Someone who data crunches all day but understands business functions better than your C level executives. Forget rows in excel, this is planning on a huge scale.
2.       Security & Architecture: How do you keep information of this size safe from competitors and hackers? How do you house it safely and securely whilst keeping immediate, constant access for yourself or your power user?
3.       Personnel – breeding a data culture. To utilize Big Data you need championed data-related executives who truly understand it, and they should be the one(s) making fact-based decisions for the company.  This is a rarity in most industries at this time.
4.       Understanding- The Economist Intelligence Unit gauges that the majority of profitable companies are only utilizing 50-75% of their current data to sell to, report on and analyse about. So even in the realm of small sized databases, companies aren’t seeing the full potential.  

So where are we at today? Research indicates that only 38% of the relevant companies interviewed (not just travel bear in mind) are practicing advanced analytics, whether it be Big or Small scale. Seems slight, doesn’t it? Especially considering how much of what we talk about as an industry is analytics driven- RM, CRM, Social, Transactional. As such, there are clearly a number of distinct challenges in this space: a) the sheer quantity of data b) poor organisation c) poor internal sharing processes and d) technical challenges. I am new to understanding the basics of Big Data and its scalable opportunities. So, how do I, as a newcomer, see it panning out for travel as an industry? I see it progressing inevitably, at an alarming rate. Data can only get bigger as we store more and more information as companies. Working out how to manage it better is something we are all talking about, but how many people are working on the strategy to actually implement a faultless data set-up which makes use of all data, and quick?  

Big Food for Big Thoughts, certainly. Feedback welcome, Take a Byte. Trademark Pun.