Rethinking location-based social media tools and the travel industry

Rethinking location-based social media tools and the travel industry

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I’ve written before about how Foursquare can be the perfect travel companion – reflecting on my own experiences almost two years ago of using the location-based social media tool to find hotels, bars and restaurants when travelling in the Balkans. Since then Foursquare and other such tools have developed, giving yet more reasons for people to check-in and to record where they are doing what they are doing. Uptake has increased, but is still not mainstream. And the real differences that location-based tools can make to consumer behaviour are yet to be fully realised.

There is a huge benefit that can be gained from the data that we build in location-based apps, both individually and on aggregate and the travel industry is probably the most obvious candidate to make real use of this opportunity.

For the individual

On an individual level, any location-based app serves as a record of places you have been, what you did at the place, what you thought of it and possibly photos, videos or audio recording. As a mass of unstructured data that could be used on a simple level to help curate your experiences – map where you have been and what you have seen over time.

On a more complicated level, this data could be used to help improve your future experiences. All of this data could be mined and analysed to get a better picture of the individual – what they like doing, where they like going. This can then help companies to recommend other places for them or to better tailor their products and services. Imagine if a hotel were able to analyse the restaurants you had ever been to and then tailor your room service menu on the basis of this.

On aggregate

But the bigger opportunity comes from looking at this data on aggregate. Imagine being able to analyse what everybody who stays at your hotel does – where they go, where they eat, the museums they visit. Overlay this with customer data and you can start to build detailed segments of behaviour based on customer types. Take the data you know (spend, stay patterns, origin of guest) and then add on their behaviours in the city your hotel is based. You can then tailor packages, offers and advice for future guests. You can build relationships with other businesses in the local area, knowing how many customers you are likely to send their way would put you in a position of strength in these negotiations.

Opportunities for the travel industry

Overall, the real opportunity from location-based services for the travel industry is in the detailed data that is captured every time somebody checks in. In an unstructured form this is not that useful. If you structure the data it becomes more useful. And if you combine it with your own data then it becomes even more valuable and will allow you to fundamentally tailor your products and services better and in ways you have never been able to before.

But to do this we need more people to be using location-based services, especially when away from home. So we need to develop ways to encourage people to do this, to take up these services and to make them useful for them in the immediate term. Not because we want to run a foursquare campaign, but because if we help to achieve mass take-up, we will be able to benefit from the data and behaviour changes this will bring.