Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
December, 19th 2012

By Raul Arce
Vice President, Travel & Transportation, IBM

The holidays are upon us once again. And with it comes visiting with family and friends, parties, last-minute Christmas shopping and, of course, traveling.

In fact, more than one in four Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday season, according to AAA’s 2012/13 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast. I’m one of those travelers and it’s likely that you are too.

IBM has a long history of innovation in the travel industry, dating back to our work on the first airline reservation system. While IBM technology is invisible to most of us – processing tickets and travel records, self-service kiosks, supporting back-office functions – by design, this helps travel providers better focus on their primary concern, the customer.

Today, many of us are tweeting, commenting, reviewing and posting about our travel experiences regularly. We were curious what that might reveal about sentiment moving into the end-of-the-year peak travel period.

The latest IBM Social Sentiment Index turns its eye to holiday travel. Interestingly, despite the crowded skies and roads, the Index suggests that people in theU.S. are actually very optimistic about traveling. The “Desire Ratio” – the proportion of positive versus negative comments – indicates that people are “looking forward” to holiday travel by a factor of 26 to one. This represents a spike in positive sentiment and is nearly 12 times greater than last year.

Other interesting findings include: 

  • People are roughly 2.5 times more positive about flying in 2012, over 2011; this is possibly due to popular Cyber Monday deals airlines ran this year;
  • Some of the most popular topics of online conversations by travelers ranged from airline loyalty programs and the best ways to convert miles, to the rise in mobile and what to do with pets while on vacation;
  • People spoke less negatively about gas prices, which likely contributed to the positive number of people traveling; 
  • While only a small sample size, sentiment around travel providers’ mobile experiences such as smartphone apps and websites, is on an upward trend (the amount of those conversations increased 40 percent year over year);
  • And even though there is a decrease in the volume of conversations this year, comments mentioning the word “travel” during the studied time period increased 75 percent.

Of course, this index is about more than simply what we, as travelers, are talking about online. It’s about understanding the value of the conversation. CMOs from airlines, hoteliers, cruise lines, and other segments of the travel industry that pay attention to what their customers are saying  and then deliver products and services in a personalized, just-in-time fashion, could transform their business.

Imagine travel offers that are specifically tailored to a person’s desire. The social chatter around traveling with pets, for example, caught my eye. At first glance, this might seem like noise. But to a CMO, this could be a signal of a new market, or at least an opportunity to create new promotional activities directly tied to the holiday season for pet owners.

Taking advantage of insights like this can move the industry from the mass marketing to the ability for marketers to design travel offers and services tailored to what travelers – like you and I – are telling them. Customized incentives and products can address fast-moving trends and real time customer needs. Travel providers must find ways to surprise and “delight” their customers to remain competitive. What better way to drive brand loyalty than an irresistible offer that makes a customer view travel as fun again.

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