Personalisation in the Travel Industry

Blog: Do we expect too much from our travel booking experiences?

Just because some companies can do it, does it automatically mean we should expect a personal, intuitive service from everyone?

I book a lot of train tickets. Out of habit I use the UK’s favourite train booking system (you know the one). They have my details stored now so, in addition to a competitive price, I know that booking should be slick and simple. The operative word here is should.

Yesterday it was London. I went through the usual booking process as I have done many times before. And as usual I was ready to reserve my seat with the same preferences I always select: aisle seat, table, forward facing, near the toilet (sorry, too much information).

This time, though, no preferences were required. ‘Brilliant,’ I thought. ‘At long last they’ve got a system that recognises me and knows what I want.’

Of course, that’s not what they have at all. As I sat facing the wrong way, squashed against the window a country mile from the nearest WC, I looked enviously at the person enjoying my table seat and wondered whether it was actually my expectations that were over-inflated.

In a world where my preference of everything from seat to shoe size is stored, is it too much to expect that someone somewhere is working out how to use that information for everyone’s benefit?

The sliding scale of intuition:

So, if I expect too much, then what is a reasonable level of expectation? When I book my travel tickets, what’s the least I’m entitled to expect from my online experience in return for registering my personal data?

I’d argue – and this is a purely personal thing – that the occasional voucher or discount is the entry level of expectation. Then, on a sliding scale of personalisation, I’d like to see vouchers that match my buying habits, so I feel as though they’ve been specially selected for me.

Next we reach the level I foolishly thought we’d hit when I booked my train tickets: preferences that are remembered via a booking system that knows what a table seat is and how to reserve one for me.

And finally, at the pinnacle of personalisation, a system that does all of the above and can push the offers and information it thinks I need to know straight to my mobile, from e-tickets on my phone to helpful travel advice. So if the 16.55 from Euston is delayed, my smartphone tells me and I can avoid that needless dash on the Northern Line.

Missed opportunities:

The system I use seems somewhere in the ballpark of minimal expectations – the occasional apparently random offer to accompany my backwards facing seat.

What a missed opportunity to win my loyalty and goodwill. What a great chance to make me feel like a human being rather than a data generator. Do I expect too much? No, I don’t think so, especially since some travel companies can do it.

I think that as technology and understanding improve, we’re all entitled to believe that the information we give might just end up making life that little bit easier. When it does, I’ll be choosing that train ticketing provider out of habit instead.

At least they might be able to find me a seat near the loo.