How travel brands can use AI to cross-sell online

by | Nov 22, 2021 | Digital Transformation, News, Travel Tech

Using Machine Learning based AI technology to drive tangible commercial results for airlines, hotels and other travel companies.

Revenue potential. Tangible, explainable results. Commercial viability. It’s the holy trinity for any sales and marketing team, but not always easily quantified when assessing new technology. Travel companies assessing how to use AI to cross-sell and upsell to their customers want to know what return they can expect.

As travel automation experts, we continuously explore new ways to help travel companies achieve their commercial goals. AI and machine learning (ML) technology embedded in direct channels can boost efficiencies in loyalty programmes and prevent churn without losing profits. But how can AI technology help airlines cross-sell to their online and digital sales visitors?

Always relevant

The psychology of selling has been used for generations in the person-to-person sales process – both face-to-face and over the phone. The advent of digital selling removed an element of the ‘personal’, with many websites producing a static shopping experience, ignoring who the user is as an individual. The scientific approach of finding “a way to market to [customers’] current needs and wants” is, put simply, lacking in many online shopping environments.

Digital companies know the value of human interaction and connections in the sales process, but often struggle to translate that value into actions online. Using Artificial Intelligence, an airline website can transform itself into being always relevant – to each and every user.

Consider your user journey

Rarely do your customers wake up in the morning, think ‘I’d like to fly from Paris to New York next week’ and book after the first search they make. Like any purchase decision, there’s a customer journey when someone decides to travel. At varying speeds, a potential customer will cycle through different stages of intent: Looker, Planner, Booker and, finally, Customer. These stages represent opportunities for an airline to communicate with the user. Consider what messages you would like to present at stages of your specific selling journey, as a customer is planning, booking, pre-flight, in-flight, in-destination, and post-flight. Maybe not everything should be sold directly in the funnel.

Machine Learning powered AI learns from thousands of data points, identifying in real-time the stage each of your online visitors are at. Using AI to cross-sell products and services can transform your website, driving real-time merchandising in a seamless way.

For an airline direct channel: AI tools can predict the users who are open to adding hotels, transfers or rental cars, and present these options at the salient moments in the customer journey, increasing the likelihood of purchase. The right time, the right format, the right offer. These may be different for each and every person and different each time they travel. 

Technology in action: a use case for airlines

The challenge many companies face with new technologies is understanding how it can benefit the bottom line.

While still seeking to broaden revenue some have declared airline retailing a failure, others have bolted on third parties or rafts of options for the unwary consumer. Yet what is the best way to “sell” these items without distracting the user who wants to make a simple seat-only booking?

The short answer is that tailored ML driven AI can help personalise merchandising and the online digital shopping experience on an airline direct channel.

Philosophy: Once airline decision makers see that it is possible to infer immediate desires and actions for each client in real-time it opens up an entirely new way of thinking. Maybe the current need of a client can be responded to more accurately by understanding what they want right now than trying to understand what they wanted last time they travelled.

Relevance: Our technology assesses each online user on an individual basis, using thousands of data points to paint a picture of their desired travel experience. Simultaneously, the AI calls upon product profiles to select the most relevant hotel or other holiday element, displaying it in changeable areas of your website and digital sales platform to users it identifies as being open to the possibility of add-on purchases.

Realising Commercial Priorities: You’ve decided to use AI to cross-sell on your airline’s website. Commercial product steering is possible to help you reach targeted KPIs. Are there specific hotels or ancillary products you would like to prioritise during a certain travel window? Do you have offers that you only want to display to families or repeat customers? Or are their airports you wish to prioritise?

Guiding rules: AI is capable of modelling and explaining your entire audience. Eligibility rules for offers and products to be displayed can be set to accelerate learning – taking advantage of the existing knowledge of experts in commercial teams. These can be brought to life at scale as the AI learns in real-time what works. This can then work to deliver productive and profitable actions to the entire audience.

Self-learning: Customers expect personalised content and relevant information. By showing different recommendations in different placements at different stages of the user journey, the algorithms continuously learn what offers and products appeal to specific customer profiles. They use these learning cycles to refine what is presented, testing a new product, message or placement, to maximise uptake. This real-time evolution encourages a fast testing and experimentation environment, letting analysts tweak business rules and priorities to maximise return and drive revenues.

Using data to predict customer behaviour has led online giants like Amazon to dominate the global marketplace. For travel, the uptake of technology has been slower than in other retail sectors – even as the former British Airways CEO recently discussed – despite research suggestingtravel brands find they’re more successful at upselling when they show only a few offers that match customers’ likely interests.”

The process of selling is dependent on relationships. Relationships involve listening as well as talking. Your customers need to trust what you sell and how you sell it. By using AI to cross-sell online – showing relevant products and services to the right user at the right time – you can grow your sales in a targeted way.

This all starts with real-time measurement of intent. Learning how to value this takes time, effort and experience. We can help you develop the approaches required to prove out your incremental revenue, to explain your results and to ensure that your individualisation initiatives are commercially viable.

If this is a relevant subject for you and your business, we would be happy to welcome you at our booth D32 for a chat and exchange of thoughts. We are keen to learn from your experiences and challenges. Let’s discuss what it takes to drive conversion, approaching individuals versus segments, improving ancillary sales and reducing churn – leading to happier customers and loyal friends of your brand.

Written by Andy Owen-Jones, CEO of bd4travel