The hottest travel trend of 2014?

JANE E FRASER
Last updated 08:30 24/01/2014
Pillow
TRAVEL TRENDS: Want a firmer pillow? Yes, we already know ... hotels are working on finding out your personal preferences.

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Prefer a firmer pillow? Yep, we got that. Celebrating your wedding anniversary? We knew that, too.

And here's a deal for a trip to Morocco, because we know you've always wanted to go there.

Call it good service or call it Big Brother, but travel companies know more about you than ever before.

Personalisation will be one of the hottest travel trends for 2014.

Every time you take a trip, chat to a hotel staff member, fill in a survey or even post on Facebook, someone could be collecting that information to build a profile of your travel habits.

Many travellers would be surprised to know just how much information is already sitting in databases, from travel retailers to hotels and tour operators.

The worldwide chief executive of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Frits van Paasschen, recently declared personalisation to be the next big thing for hotels, saying delivering quality rooms and service is no longer enough.

Meeting the expectations of millions of individuals is a "daunting challenge", he told a Starwood conference.

The regional director of sales and marketing for Sofitel, Andrew Hartley, says hotel guests are increasingly expecting a personalised stay.

Sofitel hotels collect information from every interaction with guests, constantly adding to a customer database of needs, preferences and issues.

"If they're a regular guest, we'll already have a long list of their likes and dislikes, from what temperature they like their room to what sort of bedding they require," Hartley says.

For occasional guests, the hotel starts collecting information during the reservation process and will often call the guest a few days prior to their arrival, to find out their reason for staying.

A guest booking the hotel for a special occasion will have very different needs than one using it for business, or going to the footy.

Further information is gleaned on arrival - "there's so much you can see when guests are checking in" - and during the stay, with everything recorded for future visits.

Hartley says most guests are very forthcoming with personal information, as they want to make the most of staying in a luxury hotel.

"Most are so happy to open up and give us lots of information," he says.

Sometimes, however, the best way to personalise someone's stay is to give them less service and leave them in peace.

Customer profiles are also being used by tour operators, with a view to personalising trips.

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The managing director of Trafalgar Holidays, Matthew Cameron-Smith, says the company is constantly collecting information on its passengers.

Fighting the perception that coach tours offer a one-size-fits-all holiday, Cameron-Smith says the company uses pre and post-travel questionnaires, face-to-face discussion and social media monitoring to identify various travellers' preferences and "passion points".

A tour might be diverted to allow a traveller to see their ancestral home, or a couple might get a hotel upgrade and flowers to mark their anniversary.

Cameron-Smith says about 70 per cent of passengers fill in the pre-travel questionnaire, then tour directors keep adding to the information to build a detailed profile of each traveller.

"We try to capture as much data as we can," he says.

One example of moving towards personalised rather than standard offerings is the way repeat guests are recognised.

Cameron-Smith says the company used to have a standard gift for repeat guests but tour directors are now given a budget to buy personally-chosen gifts along the way.

So, instead of a boring old luggage tag, you might get some local jewellery or a silk scarf that will remind you of a favoured place on your trip.

More Big Brother-ish is the company's scraping of data from its social media platforms: mention on their Facebook page that you're interested in going to Spain and you can expect to hear from them within a day.

For airlines, information collection has long been happening via loyalty programs, which collect vast amounts of data about travellers' habits and preferences.

The focus now is on using and collecting passenger information on the spot.

Delta recently gave all its flight attendants hand-held devices for handling on-board purchases and says it will soon be able to provide cabin crews with customer-specific information to allow for more personalised service.

Emirates has tablet-based technology to help flight crew personalise their service based on information about the flight and passengers.

Airlines may also roll out in-flight survey technology, to collect real-time information on passengers' flight experiences.

Inflight entertainment provider Thales and survey specialist Survey Analytics have joined forces to create online surveys we can complete from our seats, so we can let airlines know exactly how we feel.

- FFX Aus

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