Today, big data is permeating every sector, and nowhere is its ramifications being felt more perceptibly than the travel industry.

Big data is no longer a niche side-line pursuit; it has become a buzzword in many industries, and its real-world implications are clear to see. This article, and an accompanying video interview with Kishore Krishnan – senior vice president, UK and Ireland at NIIT Technologies – delves into this rapidly expanding topic within the travel sector.

Airports and airlines especially are starting to embrace technological innovation. Modern travellers are demanding more, and meandering check-in queues and exasperating wait-times are increasingly irksome for busy flyers. As such, it is vital for any forward-thinking airline to use the wealth of data at their disposal to create more innovative, more streamlined processes for their customers.

Satisfying the tech savvy traveller

Travel is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity – especially among millennials. People are jetting off more than ever before, and whether it’s to an important business meeting across the continent or an exotic vacation on the other side of the globe, frequent flyers expect more bang for their buck. Yet with so many people flocking to airports every day, delays are becoming harder to avoid, and when they do occur they can have a drastic impact.

Airports are therefore under immense pressure to deliver a faultless customer experience, and it is essential to ensure passengers reach their destinations as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Technological innovation is already starting to transform our airports, but the answer to a seamless customer experience doesn’t just lie with facial recognition at passport control or robot check-in assistants. There is another powerful tool every airport and airline provider has in abundance in their inventory: big data.

Dipping into the big data pool

Society is data-driven. Every day these people generate over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data: and this is set to increase exponentially in years to come. It’s predicted that by 2020, around 1.7 megabytes of data will be created every second of someone’s live.

Leveraging this data to read the minds of their customers is allowing businesses to tailor their services to deliver a more personalised experience, giving them a unique competitive edge. There is no telepathy or magic involved here; simply collecting valuable insights from the vast quantities of data available.

Pack-up and jump on the bandwagon

The travel industry is one of the most data-laden sectors, yet there’s still many opportunities it has to grasp. The busiest airport in the UK has a footfall of over 75 million passengers a year, equating to a vast pool of untapped customer data. With the increasing demands of travellers, in an increasingly nomadic society, it is time for airlines and airports to jump on the big data bandwagon.

With such immense quantities of data available, airports need to become adept at sifting through and using data intelligently, by identifying key problems and utilising data to rethink processes. Big data may not build bigger airports, or create more flights, but it can slim down wait-times and reduce delays.

Long check-in queues are often caused by top airlines monopolising check-in desks. Oftentimes, bigger airlines will have the lions-share of desks, regardless of whether they need them.

By thinking innovatively with big data analytics, NIIT Technologies helped remedy this issue by rolling-out smarter desk allocation. By looking at how many people are expected to check-in for each airline, desks could be allocated based on actual need.

Big data also has remarkable predictive powers, a particularly useful asset for an industry that depends on precisely micromanaging timetables to avoid bottle-necks and hefty delays.

Imagine being able to predict when a storm is blowing in or mechanical malfunctions are going to hit, and being able to adapt so that such disruptions cause minimal disruption.

Big data can’t control the weather, or mend a technical fault, but it can replace on-the-spot analysis with correlative pattern analysis, and better equip airports for such disruptive set-backs. With better foresight, airlines can warn passengers of delays earlier – saving irritated travellers stuck aimlessly waiting in an airport lounge.

Big Data, The journey ahead

Airports present the optimal base for technological innovation, however there is still a long road ahead. In order to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment and, more importantly, provide customers with the best possible service, every airport should capitalise on the insights offered by big data analytics.

Overcrowded check-in desks and winding queues will be diminished by smarter, streamlined processes and travellers will receive the seamless service they have come to expect.

Technology is set to become the invisible travel guide, and every step of the passenger’s journey will be impacted by it: from the moment they step into the airport to when they have settled into their seats and taken-off.

But it won’t just be robots sat behind check-in desks or manning passport control that will shape the customer experience, for the most part travelers won’t even see the technology that is quietly making their lives easier.

Russian hackers are stealing Brits’ air miles to fund black market in luxury holidays

Cybercriminals sell on flights, hotels and car-hire at discounts of up to 75 per cent after buying them with details hacked through phishing scams.

They use sleek online stores, resembling legitimate travel agents, to advertise the breaks – where grateful customers post photos and leave reviews.

Flashpoint, the research company that revealed the trade, said yesterday that the problem was so serious that one US-based bank with British customers had quietly blocked the purchase of flights in Russia using its rewards scheme.

One British couple found their British Airways Avios points had been used to pay for a room in Spain under the names of Olga and Dmitry, reports The Times.

Liv Rowley, of Flashpoint, said: “One advantage for criminals of using reward points is that the legitimate owner might not notice for months that their points have gone.

“They’re confident enough to travel in their own names using the stolen points.”

The company would not name the point schemes and airlines affected but said that “major” British names were involved.

Some 3,600 customers used illicit hotel and car rental services on the Alphabay dark web marketplace between March 2015 and December last year.

Alphabay was closed in July after an investigation by police forces led by the FBI but Flashpoint said that similar services were sold on English-language marketplaces still online.

Illicit travel services are offered alongside hacked accounts from companies such as Amazon and Deliveroo that are linked to the victim’s credit card and can be used to buy goods or food.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that the airline industry loses more than $1 billion a year as a result of the fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets. Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, recently targeted online agencies that specialise in buying airline tickets with stolen or fake credit card details.

Alan Woodward, of the University of Surrey, said: “The whole area of crime as a service is common on the dark markets . . .

“The part that is unclear is why there isn’t more cross-checking: you would have thought that loyalty points would be usable only by those to whom the points belong.”

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