Spotlight on the privacy vs personalization debate in travel
18 July, 2018


What’s our role as travel technologists?

This is the question I found myself asking during the recent Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley. The “Personalization Dilemma” was a hot topic at the recent event, with data privacy and consumer personalization among the most debated topics.

On the one hand, most travel and travel tech companies want to do a better job personalizing experiences for their customers to provide more relevant products and services to their customers with the hopes of capturing a larger share of wallet.

Personalization also helps reduce query volume, which has been a rapidly rising cost center for certain travel businesses. By more quickly matching travelers to products, companies build customer engagement and trust.

So what is our role as technologists in the travel and hospitality industry? Do we simply forgo personalization in favor of user privacy? Is safeguarding personal and private consumer data a new measure of success? If so, how do we measure our success when it comes to protecting information: the absence of breaches, number of attempted breaches, customer satisfaction scores related to security? The murky reality makes for tough navigation.


Thinking through our approach to personalization in travel

At Umapped, we enable travel companies to engage with their customers throughout their travel journey through collaborative digital itineraries and experiences. We know that travelers have shifting attitudes towards data-driven personalization. Given the landscape of data breaches and privacy intrusions, we understand that intuitively.

“In May, Skift Research took the pulse of U.S. travelers to ask whether they were willing to share personal information such as age, gender, and address, in exchange for personalized travel offerings. A majority said no.”

It’s clear that basic personalizations are not enough for some consumers. There must be a more nuanced approach. This shift has been a priority for our team over the last several months as we prepared for GDPR and had more conversations with our partners about how we handle the personal and sensitive data.
In collaboration with our customers, we identified three points that will inform our approach to the privacy versus personalization debate moving forward.

  1. 1. Simply keeping personal and private data secure is no longer sufficient. Companies need to adapt to nurture the trust of their customers. The importance of third-party audits was a common refrain in these conversations. We have therefore moved beyond “best practices” to working with PwC to ensure we stay at the top of our game for our customers.
  2. “When it comes to Data & Security, we look at partnering with companies to review and provide guidance on optimizing their processes for their stated objectives. Ultimately, this provides an additional level of comfort to their clients on the company’s commitment to continuously adapt with the evolving landscape.” – Andrew Popliger, PwC Partner, Certification


  3. 2. Travel is personal. Wearing our consumer hats as travelers, many of us do value the opportunity to access more relevant, personalized experiences from our travel providers. While we might not derive much value from a personalized greeting when we land on a website, we most certainly see some benefits to deeper personalization based on our provided preferences. A customer-first approach to personalization can also be a financial boost. Per Google/Phocuswright, 36% of travelers would pay more for services if a travel brand tailored its information and overall trip experience. Smart personalization can preserve privacy, make customers happy, and make more money for travel providers.

  5. 3. 2-way communication is essential to build trust. As a traveler, it’s difficult to trust companies who are persistently sending you offers, especially in cases where you have not implicitly asked for them. As travel consumers ourselves, we understand that implicitly. This extends out to how travelers use media for sharing trips: text messaging and messaging apps have grown exponentially in popularity, showing that brands are rewarded for building trust through 2-way communication.

traveler use of media for trip sharing by age

Looking ahead

At Umapped, we evaluate each touchpoint a travel provider has with its customers. This focus helps travel providers nurture a more social and genuine approach to communicating with their customers.

And when they serve customers the right products and content at the right time in their travel journey, customers are pleased. The trust is not only preserved but solidified, and customers are more than happy to share data for personalization moving forward.

We believe our role as technologists is to continuously evolve and advance our commitment to keeping personal and private data secure. We also believe that this is possible while also delivering relevancy when it comes to personalization and nurture trust. There don’t have to be tradeoffs — as long as the technology provider does the work to balance personalization with privacy.

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