Semantic Technology and the Travel Shopping Experience

Sep 13, 2011

Republished here in its entirety is the latest article published in Tnooz by Thematix’s Larry Smith

Tnooz - Talking Travel TechIn a previous Tnooz article I suggested that internet technology had transformed the travel transaction into a self-service, always on, multiple choice, zero friction vending machine.

The universal presentation of a matrix listing the “travel troika” of time and place differentiated by price has convinced consumers that travel products are generic, to the detriment of brand values and unique product differentiation.

In turn, this creates a type of product articulation that promotes downward pricing pressure; it rewards low pricing, and does little to enrich unique value, luxury positioning and premium pricing.

Sure, travel product is about price, time and place, just like buying cooked meat at Peter Luger or cold dead fish at Nobu is about making a reservation to fill your belly. We know it is more than that. But we’re constrained by the process and the technology.Point A to Point B

The reliance on search and presenting product matrices causes us to miss the point. We’ve de-coupled the purchase from the experience; but worse, we’ve gone lazy in shopping the experience to the purchase. Shopping the experience means using customer benefits, words, and concepts to wrap the travel product in advance – to anticipate customer needs. It means creating an entry point or sidebar to create anticipation, set expectations, convey satisfaction cues and engage before the buying process.

We have new tools and techniques with semantics and the semantic web. This is where customer benefits and concepts can be delivered with marketing (selling), and technology (presentation) in a new and cost efficient way.

Semantics allow us to program for meaning and inference so the context of personal versus business, family versus individual, expense account vs. personal, etc. all have a cascading implication and input to our planning and buying process across the itinerary and providers.

For many families, vacations are all about a destination, activity, or a blending of things to do, or possibly balancing a veto where adult and child agendas conflict. A lot of shopping is involved, everyone has an opinion, and these decisions apply across the board to air, hotel, car, and services.

In contrast to business travel, the time, place and destination are usually set in advance though frequently subject to change at the last minute.

Fast and easy buying defines this process, with the unfortunate consequence of underselling unique benefits and value. Is anyone selling the beauty of having a few extra hours in town: what to do, where to go, and how to leverage your travel partners?

As Google head of travel Rob Torres said in a recent Tnooz article:

When you look across the phases of the travel cycle – Dreaming, Researching, Booking, Experiencing and Sharing – the potential for innovation, particularly in the early stages of dreaming and researching is astounding.”

Semantics and the semantic web can be immediately applied to three objectives:

  • exposing marketing benefits
  • increasing technology flexibility
  • cementing business values.

First, the marketing benefits are in the ability to elevate the brand and product in search (SEO/SEM), plus the ability to deliver products that match consumer search concepts and words.

These “synthetic concepts” permit the creation of smart brands and enable us to re-brand standard products with new sales wrappers. For example, consumer site reports that Justin Bieber has checked into a hotel in Los Angeles. The hotel creates a “pop star room package” with semantic mark-up to Bieber’s name and the news report. Fans will now see the hotel product when searching for Bieber.

Semantic technology flexibility is different than that achieved by other structured data and databases. Developing on top of ontology and declaring triples (subject-predicate-object), our Bieber room is simply a renamed honeymoon suite with a free on-demand movie and streaming music – same product, new sales approach, fast SEO indexing and higher margins due a uniquely differentiated product.

Because company websites, online travel agents, and other distribution partners have structured technology interaction (via GDS or direct connect using Open Travel Alliance schema), the addition of travel ontology as a technology foundation and common language enables creation of “synthetic categories” of benefits and products/services fast and more cost efficiently.

The ultimate business value is lower cost technology development, enhanced product definition and promotion, and the ability to differentiate and sell almost any iteration of your business assets quickly and smartly.

Businesses that use semantics will also be able to court more partners in better ways. This is possible by creating unique co-branded benefit concepts with essentially the same underlying product. The “pop star room package” could easily become the Jazz, Pop, Hip Hop, Rap or whatever and whomever is the high awareness, high search concept of the moment.

While the benefits of semantics are many, we believe their use could herald a new ability to brand and merchandise travel products in a way that creates an enhanced process path.

By capturing attention early, often and from different angles we can shepherd our consumer from a “dreaming or research” entry point, through the shopping journey, into the purchase transaction, to enhance the actual experience, and foster post purchase social commentary.

Once on this path, and proceeding down the purchase funnel, time and place connect to a unique benefit and become the operative buying requirements, not price. Let’s use semantics to open new Brand, and brand new, shopping doors.

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