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Big Data, Big Mistake?

Big data

Having a lot of data on customers, their habits, products they like and those they don't is a great idea and helps firms to provide the right product or service at the right time. This means the customer receives relevant information at the most relevant time. This helps both supplier and the customer... or does it?

When it comes to travel, could airlines, hotels and car hire firms amend prices according to customer? (Sorry, that should read "tailor") The temptation is certainly there, that if a regular customer returns time and again with a similar itinerary and the supplier knows that customers' buying habits, then why not "adjust" pricing to suit? After all, if you know a customer HAS to do something, make hay whilst the sun shines, as the saying goes. We know that some suppliers have played with this kind of result manipulation with not that much success; but as the management of big data becomes more refined, so too could actively employable means of "tailoring" results become more insidious.

One thing about a travel agent using a GDS, is that no one knows who the customer is (apart from the agent, of course... though agents now work for the customer, not the supplier) until after all prices have been reviewed, discussed and finalised. To my mind, this is a much safer way of buying travel rather than running the risk of having any supplier's or OTA's own website thinking: "Oh! It's her, him or them..." True, you can shop across a number of websites but we are all equally aware that most people are creatures of habit. Unless one is prepared to monitor constantly a number of sites from various bits of online kit, then that doubt remains. And of course, what do you do, when you use the same website time and again? Yes! You have "an account". You log in, to "make checkout and choice easier"! The flipside of which is that that supplier knows everything about you, what you like, what you have paid in the past and what you may be able to pay in the future.

Many are aware of the historical story behind the "neutral display" required on GDS systems and why these were introduced - for the benefit of the customer. NDC (for example) which is a new proposed distribution system for airlines that has been much talked about though not managed to produce anything workable, at least, as yet, would have to show that the same neutrality would be incorporated. Chances are, it won't, given that it is a very commercialised system designed to say "Hey! You wanted this flight, but if you take this one - which may get you there three hours later than you wanted, we will give you a free bag and a bun"

Big data can also be an irritation, not to mention spooky. Further, like generals fighting the last war, big data will always mean that you will get information about something you wanted last time, not this.

Big data is an exceptionally powerful tool as well as an exceptionally dangerous one. The more any supplier makes of providing service through big data, the more one must assume that a greater knowledge of any individuals' - your - lifestyle has been amassed. Is this a good thing? Perhaps for some, but do we get a choice? Control of that data means trusting the supplier (or at least, the data holder) and as anyone will tell you - Money talks, merit walks.

So, one more plus for the travel agent; we don't need or want to know your life history in order to make your travel arrangements.

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