Guest entry by Dirk Rogl: Open Data by itself is not enough
Dirk Rogl has accompanied the global tourism economy as an editor, analyst and consultant for more than 20 years now. He is an analyst at Phocuswright, deputy director of the “Kompetenzzentrum Tourismus des Bundes” and advises DMOs, online travel services as well as service providers with Rogl Consult.
As a keynote speaker at the Outdooractive Conference 2018 Dirk Rogl explained to the participants who – in times of open data – is still relevant to the guest. You will find the most important findings here in this blog.
The global travel market is changing remarkably fast. A consequence: Some few global platforms have the entire access to the mass market and thus to the future guest. No other company can provide such an analysis of the customer in all instances of the customer journey as comprehensively as Google. And no other travel portal is as successful as Booking.com. And apart from those two?
Let’s start with three good news.
Firstly: There are plenty of ways past these two giants.
This is due to new boom markets which create new global players, e.g. China with Ctrip.com, already the world’s third largest online travel agency, and the IT giants Tencent and Alibaba, who are already playing in a league with Facebook and Amazon. We still hardly know these new market leaders. But we will soon.
Secondly: No, nobody needs to be present on all those platforms.
But it does help. The customer loves one-stop-shops – from inspiration to the digital travel companion as well as paying for all services on site. That is the future. Google and Booking.com have extensively illustrated the diversity of European travel destinations by now, each according to their owPreview (opens in a new window)n rules. Others will follow shortly.
Thirdly: Good content always finds its way.
A truism, but very profound. Destinations with a unique selling point and superlatives always had a good chance in the analogue world. The demand finds such offers. And this does not necessarily require the most beautiful panoramas, unique architecture, culture or history. Sometimes an outstanding marketing, the original task of a marketing organization, does the trick.
Personalized offers influence travel decisions
Unfortunately, there are not just good news. Instead of thick catalogues from the analogue world and practically endless result lists from the e-commerce, personalized offers will greatly influence the travel decision in the future. Artificial intelligence is the key to success. In fact, it cannot be any different as even a smartphone display enforces selection. Only a handful of offers may find room here. And that’s a lot compared to future voice-controlled booking systems. The skills of Amazon‘s Alexa give a clear answer: “The best offer is this one”. It will take time for the majority of these customers to follow such recommendations. But it will come.
The dilemma: Nobody knows the rules according to which such placings and recommendations are published. And it’s really not just about Alexa. Google Duplex is already extremely capable of booking services that are voice-controlled. Apple’s Siri is eager to learn. Behind all these offers are dynamic algorithms, which are similarly mysterious as the results (SERP) of the well-known Google search. If you want to be one step ahead, you have to a. deliver the right content and b. constantly learn and optimize.
Open Data can be one key to success as long as content isprovided with as little restrictions as possible. Because (see “Thirdly”) good content always finds its way. But what is with the content that does not stand out?
It is interesting to note that the discussion regarding Open Data in tourism almost solely takes place in German-speaking countries at the moment and only among the “providers” of information. Nobody knows what the “recipients” such as Google, Booking.com & Co. are doing with the open databases. What counts is the confidence that data will be used sensibly and profitably. Nothing more.
But beware. Google does not necessarily use the information of the destinations. Google already has them. However, online travel providers still need them. One thing that we have learned from the many years of studying the Google-SERP, i.e. the search engine optimization: Unique content has a positive effect on the placing of the results. If you offer something that is exchangeable, you will be punished. However, Open Data is the complete opposite of uniqueness. That is a real dilemma.
And there is something else that does not seem to be sufficiently considered in my opinion: It’s not just about the disdainful production of destination data, for which thousands of DMO’s have a high level of competence in Germany alone. The point is to create added value for guests. An insider tip, for example, is only an insider tip as long as it is not publicly shared. An insider tip by a host is not only the icing on the cake in the analog world. The same can apply for outstanding photos and – watch out! – the travel product itself. You won’t necessarily find exclusive offers on every portal.
The global sales systems of our industry have always precisely differentiated between “bookable content” and “non-bookable content”. And they always had a well-secured interface to mid-office-systems that are a central part of the travel technology. This is where the customer data and travel plans are stored and everything else that is relevant for personalized future offers.
By the way, there are established norms for all of this in the global travel sales by now, which by all means resemble standards. For flight tickets, these standards have been set by the International Air Transportation and the GDS (Amadeus, Sabre, Travelport). In package tourism, there are specifications such as the Open Tourist Data Standard, which is currently working on its own standardization of “non-bookable content”. And on a global scale, the Open Travel Alliance has been trying to standardize (and thus open up) tourism data flows across segments since 1999.
Global players often cooperate on these norms which they like to supplement with their own specifications when a certain market size is reached – especially to emphasize the uniqueness of their product. However, it is clear that technical standards must be global. And they should take into account what I believe to be the legitimate interests of gatekeepers in the travel business.
This is why a small circle of enthusiasts currently work on a logical further development of Open Data, called Controlled Open Data. That is no contradiction but a logical distribution of content into an open and closed level of information. I explained what this means in a blog entry (in german). We also discussed this at the Outdooractive Conference 2018. The general consensus of our workshop: Open Data makes a lot of sense, but not for everything.
For now, Controlled Open Data is a delicate baby, free of economic constraints and conflicts of interests. But it is worth to further develop this project. Many destinations are without doubt predestined to provide the global platforms with a good part of their information without any obstacles (i.e. open). However, the line to controlled data distribution must be clearly defined for each data supplier.
The bottom line is the customer’s well-being. In our still purely theoretical controlled open data world, the customer has full GDPR-compliant data sovereignty. The customer decides which customer data they make available for which provider or not. Transaction data, for example, is perhaps the most important piece of data for tomorrow’s tourism marketing. Currently, the customer delivers this information preferentially and often unchecked to the operator of his smartphone operating system, i.e. to Google or Apple. Open Data alone will not break this dominance. So let’s think one step further – for the benefit of the customer.
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