Secret Escapes harness Machine Learning to Improve Marketing ROI

 

Traditional marketing saw companies aim to hit the jackpot, make that perfect ad and sell you their product in an instant. Even if they left you with little more than an annoying, unforgettable jingle, they succeeded. The seed was planted.  

But that was advertising before the internet. In the dawn of the information era, where everything is accessible to customers and catchy jingles no longer swing sales to the extent they once did, companies must develop new methods to be discovered and remembered by customers.

Discovered is the key term there. Particularly in the case of the travel industry. We know that smaller travel agencies struggle to compete against the industry’s big players. And that a handful of platforms dominate search engine results and therefore bookings. That’s the downside to having a system that allows well-funded companies with astute business models to gain a global stranglehold. It’s tough on startups, but everyone has to start somewhere.   

But it’s also an opportunity. A frenetic market has its own possibilities.

SEO and Adwords

We know that the majority of travellers are now researching, planning and booking trips online using every device you can imagine. Smart TVs, mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Even voice assistants.

In part that’s out of convenience. These devices are now our gateway to the online world. It’s also because E-commerce is more trusted than it was. Not to mention the sheer amount of content and travel guides online. Organising your travel experience online has become a no-brainer.

However, this move toward digital has a downside: It’s hard for travel agencies to grow and get noticed when people have so many potential options for flights, accommodation, tours and more. Especially when a small number of players dominate the online travel game.

SEO has long been a major determinant of lead generation. However, Google’s Adwords platform provides a way for operators big and small to bypass all of those SEO hoops and put their links directly in front of potential customers.

Google is comfortably among the most popular websites in the world, with 28 billion visits every single month. Its many travellers’ gateway to the internet. So generating leads through the search engine – whether through organic SEO or by paying for them using the Adwords platform – is vital if a travel agent wants to survive and thrive.

Which explains why smaller agents such as Secret Escapes are looking for ways to refine their Adwords techniques, doing whatever they can to lower their Cost Per Lead (CPL) and ultimately, increase the efficiency of their marketing efforts

Improving AdWords Outcomes With Machine Learning

British travel agent Secret Escapes is seeking to solve these problems through the use of machine learning.  

Hang on, you might be thinking. What is this vaguely AI-related buzzword all about?

Well, very briefly, machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to scan huge piles of data in search of patterns and trends. Patterns and trends that a human couldn’t otherwise spot. It’s being applied already in the travel industry, it’s being used for various things, from fraud detection to developing intelligent travel assistants.

You get the idea: Machine learning is capable of doing a lot of the heavy lifting in a short time frame.

Secret Escapes thought they could use the technology to reduce their CPL.

The membership-only online travel agency, which specialises in luxury packages, decided to adopt a Google Ads Smart Bidding approach called tCPA, or Target Cost Per Acquisition. This is a dynamic, automated approach to bidding that uses advanced machine learning to optimise bids automatically, and tailor bids to each auction.

The test started in Google AdWords’ Draft & Experiments with a seven-day learning phase, then continued until the results reached significance. The team tested across multiple markets at the same time so they could compare outcomes and collect more insights.

When the test was complete, they found that using tCPA bidding on average produced a 23% better click-through rate, 65% more conversions and an overall cost per lead that was 38% lower than their previous bidding setup. In some accounts, they even saw 100% greater impression volume.

So what do those numbers mean in practice?

Well, no doubt a 23% better click-through rate granted the company’s products and packages significantly higher exposure than they would have done otherwise. The devil in the detail also suggests that the ads were improved in the sense that they were better targeted, too.

Which of course contributed to a whopping 65% more conversions.

A 38% lower CPL is also music to the ears of any marketing boss.  

Rumyana Miteva, Head of Search at Secret Escapes was certainly happy with the results. “Machine learning is evolving and automation within Google Ads is getting better and better, which give us the confidence to continue using automated bidding at scale,” she said.

Holistic travel industry marketing

Secret Escapes have proved that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great results through GoogleAds.

And there’s certainly a lot to be gained from using the platform cleverly. However, here at Travelshift we favour a more organic approach to winning business.

Our marketplace software empowers small operators to dominate their travel niche by banding together, creating awesome content and connecting travellers with the information they need and local experts. It’s packed with tools and pre-made solutions to help your marketplace get off the ground and seamlessly attract both buyers and sellers.

It all adds up to a software platform that naturally creates the quality and quantity of content that search engines seek out. Not to mention an informative, go-to source for those curious about your travel niche or chosen destination.

You can find out more about our marketplace software here. Or contact us today to find out how our software can provide the foundations for your travel industry ambitions.

These Robots Have Serious Travel Industry Potential

Ah, robots. We meet again. For an industry so reliant on customer service and authenticity, you’d think travel companies would steer clear of employing too many non-human workers.

But no, the race to innovate never stops. Particularly when adaptable robots can provide easy customer service, free labour and, in some cases, an extra security measure.

Here are three travel industry robot stories that have caught our eye in the past few months.

Meet Eurostar’s newest recruit: Pepper the robot

Eurostar is deploying Pepper robots to help with customer service on train platforms

If you’ve ever dared to venture out into the world and use the trains in a major city, you’ll know how easy it is for your well-organised plans to be derailed. Particularly if you’re planning to travel between countries in Europe.

Racing to get to the train on platform 3, travellers can often realise too late that a grave mistake has been made. Platform 3 does not have the train they thought it did. If only things could be made easier. If only things could be more accessible.

Well, high-speed rail operator Eurostar is aiming to make that a reality. The solution? Robots.

When we talk about robots, it’s easy to think about a huge warehouse. Thousands of machines crammed in doing the same monotonous task over and over again. On the plus side, they never need to stop for a toilet break. On the downside, they’re not known for their people skills.  

Few robots are known for their approachable personalities. Most are more likely to calculate the chances of you having a good morning than say ‘good morning’.

Eurostar is aiming to break that stigma with Pepper, a humanoid robot made by SoftBank robotics.

Read more: Report Digs in to Travel Technology Trends for 2018

Pepper enters the fray

The train company, which connects the UK to cities in mainland Europe, is introducing Pepper to give travellers information and assistance.    

London’s St Pancras is the first station to host the new Eurostar scheme. Pepper will give information on train times, platforms, prices, and more. Eurostar hopes that technology on platforms will improve their customers’ experience.

A customer service agent that’s always happy to serve?

Pepper has an in-built tablet that lets customers access an interactive map of St Pancras station to more easily find their platform. It also includes train-specific information to give customers an idea of what’s to come on their Eurostar service.

Pepper uses a camera, microphone and no small amount of computing power to help it understand different facial expressions, speech and even body language. The ability to adapt to your behaviour could enable Pepper to respond to even the trickiest of customer situations. And if you for some reason are not in a rush you can even take a selfie with Eurostar’s new recruit.

For many travellers, the idea of getting journey information and advice from a robot might be a strange one. But the European rail giant believes this is a step that will raise the bar for customer satisfaction, as well as providing customers with young children extra entertainment on the platform.

Eurostar’s head of digital, Perrine Allain, said, “We are always looking for new ways to innovate, and explore technologies that can help enhance the overall customer experience.

“Pepper offers a fun way for customers to find out more about their journey and destination, and we look forward to hearing the feedback from our customers so that we can continue to improve their experience.”

Eurostar is launching the Pepper pilot at St Pancras to begin with. The company has confirmed plans to move the robot to another of their destinations in the new year.

Read more: Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Travel Industry Forever

Robot security guard to patrol Tokyo station for Olympic Games

A robot security guard ready for the tokyo olympics

Another robotic train station assistant has been unveiled – this time in Japan’s capital of Tokyo. But this one is focused on security rather than customer service.

Perseusbot is the joint creation of the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute, Seibu Railway Co, IT firm Nihon Unisy, and AI computer vision developer, Earth Eyes. The robot is due to join Japanese railway staff in 2020 for the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The project is being implemented to help preserve the peace and ease the burden on security staff during what will be a busy time for Japan’s capital.

With terror attacks on the rise around the world and tensions heightened at large-scale public events, Perseusbot will form part of additional security measures at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Read more: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

A robot to protect and serve

Perseusbot is 167.5 centimetres tall. Its aim will be to assist railway staff once the games begin. The robot will patrol station platforms and combine security camera footage with an onboard AI to detect and report suspicious people or objects.

Perseusbot will also send alerts to the smartphones of security guards. It’s being trained to recognise items that have been left unattended and aggressive movements made by travellers.

Earth Eye’s AI technology has been used in the past to spot shoplifters. The company website explains how the technology can be used alongside video feeds as a security measure, to “detect and notify suspicious behaviour as soon as possible… it shows the deterrent effect of preventing crime in advance.”

The team responsible for the robot will need to be careful that prejudice and bias don’t infect the AI’s training data. We’ve seen that happen before, most notably with Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ – arguably the most dramatic example of AI gone bad.

The bot was connected to social network Twitter to learn through conversation with the public in order to learn from its interactions. However, it ended up being taken down after a number of inappropriate tweets.

Clearly, Tay lacked the neutral input required for its training data and was quickly shut down by an embarrassed Microsoft. With Perseusbot the risks are higher.

This is the real world and the diplomatic costs of racial profiling, for example, could be significant. If the system is predicated on biased training data, the AI  could pick up some bad habits and do more harm than good in 2020.

Alibaba’s Space Egg steps up to the plate

alibaba space egg for hotel room service

Alibaba is also entering the domain of robot customer service. But this time our mechanical friends won’t be assisting travellers in a train station, they’ll be rolling around hotel corridors instead.

Alibaba’s ‘Space Egg’ offers a glimpse into the future, one in which human porters are obsolete and replaced by indefatigable AI-powered robot servants. The Space Egg was revealed in mid-September in Hangzhou, China before being put to work in October at a hotel in the same city.

On the face of it, the Space Egg has been designed to replace traditional porters and represents the latest step in the hotel industry’s bid to automate roles previously occupied by human workers.

But Alibaba says the robot can take over menial tasks, trundling room service from the kitchen to guests’ bedrooms, for example, allowing staff more time to spend on keeping guests happy.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

The Space Egg works by connecting to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, the kitchen and a dynamic ordering system. It receives an order from a smart device found in each guest’s room.

The robot then knows where to collect it from – usually the kitchen – and how to navigate around the hotel. The Space Egg uses built-in directional lasers to communicate its intentions and moves around while avoiding obstacles and people. It can even tap into the hotel’s Wi-Fi network to open elevators, and has facial recognition software that enables it to make small talk with travellers.

The rollout promises to take the jobs of low-skilled hotel staff, which could, in turn, maximise the profits of hotels and improve efficiency – something that’s been the driving force behind projects like Japan’s Henn-Na, a hotel entirely staffed by robots.  

Lijuan Chen of Alibaba AI Labs stated that the robot will “bridge the gap between guest needs and the response time that they expect. The robot will be the ultimate assistant for hotel guests who want everything quickly and conveniently at their fingertips.”

Final Thoughts

So there you have it: rail operators, hotels and transport authorities around the world are exploring how robots can improve and, in some cases, protect, the travel experience.

Which is an interesting concept. You’d normally associate brands like Eurostar and any traditional hotel with an appreciation of the value of human contact. It’s often the little things, the friendly words and small gestures, that make a trip memorable and help to instil that sense of loyalty.

But ultimately the benefits of robotics can’t be overlooked. Whether that’s in terms of performance: a robot that can recognise crowd safety issues in a flash; or through relentless drive: the ability the provide customer service and intra-hotel delivery without sleep, food or pay.

Perhaps the wave of travel industry robots is just a matter of time.