Welcome to the end-of-year holiday season — a time when savvy businesses in the travel and hospitality industries can transform hectic consumer behavior into gift-wrapped opportunities. But making those opportunities sparkle takes an understanding of changing customer expectations, optimized mobile experiences and cloud-driven strategies that can handle the seasonal frenzy.

And frenzy is often the operative word for this time of year. Today’s holiday travelers steadfastly research last-minute destinations, pounce on available tickets and snag precious remaining lodging options. They move faster than ever and have little patience for second-rate service.

Moreover, they expect a buying experience that’s personalized, consistent and hassle-free, whether through a website, mobile device, store or call center. How well travel and hospitality businesses engage customers determines not just the success of the season but ongoing loyalty and retention in the months ahead.

Understand customer expectations

Fickle customer tastes have upped the stakes for consumer-facing businesses. In the travel and hospitality industries, anticipating customer desires is as important as listening to them. That’s why analytics capabilities should be used for more than tracking demand, but to get one step ahead using predictive analytics to anticipate travelers’ interests in advance. Use historical data to track spikes in seasonal interests and trends, and apply predictive analytics and microsegmentation to deliver relevant content to travelers across channels according to their preferences.

Allegiant Travel offers a good example of anticipating demand. As the company evolved from a budget airline to a full-fledged online travel agency, it quickly realized the importance of being able to track incoming data, particularly about customer behavior.

Although the company doesn’t track individuals by name when they visit its website, it does follow their behavior. For example, they can take a closer look at how many times people visit the site, which destinations they select, whether they’re traveling alone or with others.  Allegiant can also see whether items were added or deleted from shopping carts, which allows the sales team to review and adjust pricing. The company also looks at other forms of quantifiable behavior, such as whether registered users have checked in online or in person, purchased a seat or selected optional bag-handling fees.

Because security dictates that travelers provide their name, gender and date of birth at time of purchase, Allegiant can aggregate this personal information to develop detailed demographic profiles of customers by market segment. Then data from past consumer actions can be leveraged to predict future actions. When combined with anonymous, web-driven data, the company builds a high-level view of which services are effective or which ones fall short — and then adjusts accordingly.

Optimize the mobile experience

Today travel products are being consumed in brand new ways thanks to the rapidly evolving use of technology. This is most evident with the increasing use of mobile and social applications, as well as traditional browser and desktop applications. According to eMarketer, nearly three-quarters of online travel searches by Americans were expected to originate from mobile devices in 2016. A mobile platform can have a significant impact on customer purchases during the time crunch inherent in the emotionally charged holiday season. To optimize customer interactions, travel companies need to take a careful, tactical approach to their mobile-centric marketing strategies.

One company that is capitalizing on these changing consumption patterns is Travelport, which focuses on providing distribution, technology and payment solutions for the 8 trillion dollar global travel and tourism industry. This business to business company enables travel providers, travel agencies, corporations and developers to search, share, buy and sell travel. They analyze data, apply instant insights, and use engaging mobile apps to deliver better customer experiences. And do all this at scale.  Gordon Wilson, Travelport President and CEO says, his company processes transactions on the order of 900 billion system messages per year to generate 120 million airline tickets, 60 million hotel reservations and 76 million car rentals.

Adopt a cloud-driven strategy

Focusing on customer analytics and mobile presence requires a solid IT infrastructure. Cloud computing is well suited for accommodating the spike in holiday web traffic, and it’s critical for keeping customers satisfied. Without cloud resources, permanently allocating enough bandwidth to meet holiday season traffic spikes can be cost prohibitive. But rapid scalability, redundant architecture and pay-per-use cost models allow the travel and hospitality industries to meet customer requirements without missing a beat.

In particular, hybrid cloud models are designed to combine new web-based Internet of Things and digital data with existing on-premises systems into one cohesive environment. Travel and hospitality companies can use data from connected devices to deliver personalized promotions, and cloud technologies enable developers to build the next generation of mobile applications.

For example, by using smart sensors in connected devices, hotels can automatically send electronic key cards to their guests’ mobile devices, providing a comprehensive self-check-in and room key service. Hotels can also save data on room preferences and automatically access that information at each visit by returning guests, helping ensure all guests enjoy a consistent, customized experience.

To help improve customer engagement and boost holiday sales, the travel and hospitality industries need to understand customers individually, create exceptional mobile experiences and implement a smart cloud strategy. Those organizations that succeed in these areas can not only prosper during the holidays but also reap benefits that extend well into the new year.

Learn more about how the travel and hospitality industries can benefit from IBM Systems and IT solutions.

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