The demise of Thomas Cook was the big story of 2019 and though its fate was sealed by its crippling debts and economic uncertainty, there are obvious trends in the market – namely changes in taste (towards city breaks) and diminishing footfall at high street travel agents.

But within those macro trends, what is preoccupying travel marketers in 2020? The Travel Technology Europe (TTE) trade show takes place next month, February 26-27th at Olympia in London, and I took a look at the show’s annual survey which TTE released this month.

The survey names ‘eco travel’ and ‘hyper-personalisation’ as key trends to watch in 2020, jointly highlighted by 51% of respondents.

But what do we mean by hyper-personalisation, or even vanilla personalisation? And what is the task at hand for travel marketers? Arguably it’s one where tech must be yoked to content design.

Customers want personalisation

‘Personalisation’ was highlighted by 87% of respondents in TTE’s survey as something their customers are asking for more of. Furthermore, AI-powered recommendations was highlighted as a key trend (47%).

Do customers want more of the below – lots of emails incentivising me to rebook, including lines such as ‘Enjoyed your previous autumn break?’ or ‘Benjamin, don’t miss out!’. Hey, email works, I get it, but it’s probably not what I would call personalisation as a holidaymaker making a wish.

center parcs emails

Or is this personalisation from Airbnb?

I appreciate being sent ideas ahead of booking, especially with a discount – maybe we’re getting a bit closer here. But retargeting isn’t exactly romantic, either, and customers are not going to shed a tear at the thought of website ads potentially becoming less personal in the wake of Google’s third-party cookie crackdown.

Personalisation needs redefining

To give both Center Parcs and Airbnb their due (both successful travel companies), however different they may be, they have hit me with marketing that feels personal.

Whether it’s a suggested itinerary for a holiday:

Or an update including exciting new information that seems weighted towards my nearest holiday park:

The issue here is one summarised by Ashley Friedlein in his 2020-2030 digital trends article. Friedlein writes:

“I don’t think personalisation is going away but it does need redefining. Actually, it has never been very well understood anyway – what is targeting vs customisation vs personalisation? If we’re honest, actual individual-level ‘personalisation’ for most has only extended as far as “Hi [first name]” in emails anyway.

“The challenge, and opportunity, of “Personalisation 2.0” is about delivering the personalisation customers actually want whilst respecting the privacy they expect.”

Friedlein refers to the concept of ‘anonymous personalisation’. Great face-to-face service in a shop or a restaurant is done in this way, without any knowledge of who the customer is.

Tech, meet slow marketing

In the examples I’ve given above, Center Parcs and Airbnb have plenty of information about me, from my name and age to my browsing habits, but the personalisation I wanted was more akin to what a great concierge would provide – What’s new this year? What shall we do during our stay?

In this respect, whilst the value of martech is unquestionable in driving sales, cross-selling and up-selling (particularly amongst frequent and high-value travellers) by predicting what customers want, this is only part of the challenge.

In TTE’s survey, artificial intelligence was tipped to have the biggest impact on travel by 70% of respondents. I agree completely, given the implications for automated customer service (there’s a session at TTE about the role of the telephone, which would have seemed absurd a decade ago).

But for personalisation specifically, the heart of the challenge might just be a combination of ‘anonymous personalisation’ (which is essentially great customer experience), using zero party data, and creating outstanding content.

Who knows, perhaps the rise in slow travel might be mirrored by a rise in slow marketing?

Travel Technology Europe runs 26-27th February at Olympia, London.