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Fine Figures: How to get the most value out of your travel data

June 24, 2024


By Logan LaBonne
Director of Data Product

Analytics is about turning data into valuable insights that drive action and create value. That sounds simple but how do we begin and what does success actually look like? There are important steps to extract maximum value from your travel data. 

We often see articles and sales pitches about leading-edge data and analytics capabilities. While many strive to have the latest and greatest in artificial intelligence, data visualizations, forecasting models, business intelligence (BI) tools, and an advanced-prescriptive level of data maturity, the reality is that only a small percentage of companies are currently there (think FAANG and Finance). Most others fall somewhere on the spectrum between excel newbie and renowned computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton.

The right data analysis can transform decision-making and traveler experiences, but first, the fundamentals. What are tangible steps you can make now to improve your analytics? What is the foundation that needs to be laid to propel you to an advanced level? When we teach kids to swim, we generally do not start by throwing them into the deep end. We start with a floaty and focus on the fundamentals.

The fundamental pillars that make up powerful and efficient analytics are data, the content built off that data, and the tool to create, contain, and manage the content. Each pillar plays a vital role in ensuring the reporting system is not only functional, but also insightful and reliable. With these three working correctly and in sync (even at a base level), you should be able to generate more than enough insights and actions to keep a team of data analysts busy.

Data sets the true base foundation of a good reporting system

There are a few main questions you need to ask about your data as well as decisions to make on how you can best utilize your data.

Am I getting data from requisite sources? The need for data will differ from organization to organization, however at minimum, balancing operational (costs), traveler well-being and sustainability is the cornerstone of a successful program. Here are a few examples of what can be reported on:

  • Operational (costs)
    • What is my spend on a specific origin and destination?
    • Is my online adoption rate increasing or decreasing this year?
    • How much missed savings has a specific business unit had?
  • Traveler well-being
    • How many weekends is someone on the road?
    • Are there any safety and security risks where my employees will be?
    • How will this redeye flight in economy impact their performance the next day?
  • Sustainability
    • How much carbon can I save by taking a train instead of a flight?
    • What will the impact of a smaller hotel room have?
    • Is the cost for an electric rental worth the carbon offset?

Am I capturing relevant and necessary fields from my data sources? The need for specific fields has changed over time. Ten years ago, nobody needed to capture the carbon impact of an electric versus a hybrid car, and NDC reporting was hardly an afterthought. Demand for fields change so we must be aware of current gaps and in tune with industry trends to prepare for what’s next.

Is my data accurate and am I able to measure its accuracy? As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Accurate data is essential to making informed decisions. Hence the importance of being able to either spot check or have an automatic v alidation process in place.

Is my data timely? Based on your data needs, the answer of what is timely will differ. Are you trying to track the location of a traveler during an emergency, or do you need the most accurate information related to spend and taxes? For the former you need real-time data. For the latter you could probably wait a week to ensure that you have the most accurate information from the back-office systems. What’s important here is that the data is available when you need it.

Now that you have relevant, accurate data, when you need it, what do you do with it? The historic default use of data has been to extract it, pop it into excel, run it against a pivot table, pull some charts, drop them into a PowerPoint and then repeat the whole process forever. This process has some serious flaws.

Out with the old: The pitfalls of traditional data extraction

The moment you extract data, it’s stale. Travel data consistently changes with every transaction made, itinerary changed, and trip taken. You may have pulled data yesterday and a colleague a few hours later. Now you both have different results. You now waste time reconciling the differences and determining if it was a filter, bad data pull, data load, or an issue with timing. 

It’s often a repetitive task. You should never have to manually refresh a data source. When you log in, it should have your most current information up and ready. Think of all the time savings from never having to run another daily, weekly, or monthly report again.

Data extraction leads to working in silos and sometimes unnecessary recreation of the wheel. Coming from a consulting background, where working in Excel was and often still is the default, it was a consistent theme. There have been many times when I have spent weeks crafting the perfect dashboard only for a fellow consultant to say I could have just made a copy of something similar they had crafted and made a few final edits.

Susceptibility to human error. I, for one, am prone to having fat fingers that may accidentally drop a formula into the wrong column or forget to have a field autofill to the bottom. This is a risk every time we are manually repeating a task.

In the realm of analytics, the journey from raw data to actionable insights is pivotal for informed decision-making and enhancing traveler experience. By understanding your data needs and moving away from outdated analysis practices, you can lay the groundwork for unlocking the full potential of your data. The next step is ensuring you have the means to manipulate and translate your data into meaningful content—without having to start from scratch. What do I mean by this? Stay tuned for the next blog where I discuss how relevant and clear content allows you to identify opportunities and address gaps in your travel program.


See also the 2 other blog posts in this series about travel reporting:

A step-by-step guide to turning content into actionable insights  
Top Tool: What should we expect from modern reporting?