When Amazon.com first hit the World Wide Web 15 years ago, it wowed book and music lovers with its uncanny ability to suggest items that customers would enjoy based on their previous purchases. Amazon used “predictive analytics” to achieve the magic.
Now, 23TouchPoints, a new technology company in the travel industry, is applying the same approach in a platform for travel agents.
Amazon.com based its suggestions on six touch points, including the purchases themselves along with bits of data contained in the customer’s profile. “Our degree of accuracy is that much more,” said Scott Ahlsmith, president of 23TouchPoints. The new company is named for “23 touch points that have magical qualities in their predictive capabilities,” he said.
The Seattle-based tech firm was spun off from Virtuoso, the travel agency consortium that caters to high-end travelers, and Virtuoso is one of the users. Ahlsmith, a long-time technology innovator in the travel industry, and his team are now marketing a 23TouchPoints platform called Marketplace to other travel agency groups.
“Our first mantra is ‘Find It Fast,’” Ahlsmith said. Agents need to be able to find relevant information faster than the client can find it on the Internet, he said. The Marketplace platform gives the professional travel seller immediate access to information, news and promotions on both preferred and non-preferred suppliers, he said.
“Our second mantra is ‘Keep It Sold,’” Ahsmith said. In today’s economy, travelers continue to seek better deals even after they have settled on a vacation, he said, and frontline agents need to be prepared to prove the worth of what they have sold.
That means knowing the worth of the value-adds that the agency is providing. An Internet or direct-mail deal might try to lure the customer away with what looks like a better deal, so an agent should be able to explain that an exclusive shore excursion and shipboard gratuities add tremendous value to a cruise, or guaranteed late checkout at a hotel can extend a holiday.
And how does an agent use those 23 touch points? Every night, the system “harvests” data from an agency group’s back-office systems, Ahlsmith said. “If you just look at bookings, the data lie to you. We look at what is booked, paid for, traveled or canceled, so the quality of the data is high.”
The system is also designed to look at an entire family’s travel patterns. Did Grandma travel with the grandchildren last year? Where did they stay? Did she also go to England for a garden festival? “These are great predictors of future travel plans,” Ahlsmith said.
The system also knows the ages of the family’s children, the various anniversaries, upcoming graduations and other significant family events. It then marries that information with past travel to enable the agent to make suggestions that will immediately resonate with the client. The technology has been designed so an agent can function as a “life planner” of sorts, developing a three- to five-year travel plan for the client.
The technology can be expanded in the future to include customer data outside of travel that will provide agents information they can use to develop targeted promotions with non-travel partners. For example, if the family usually shops for new clothes right before a trip, its store of choice — be it Nordstrom or Target — might want to offer a tailored promotion to the travel seller’s customer.