October 19, 2023

Key Takeaways from Digital Travel Summit

Gleaning Insights from the Digital Travel Summit

By Mike Woods, SVP, Sales, Affinity Solutions

As someone deeply rooted in data-driven industries, attending the annual Digital Travel Summit was an opportunity to dive into the intricacies of the travel sector. I had the privilege to chair a program track entitled “Life is data full: down the rabbit hole,” a nod to Lewis Carroll’s beloved tale, drawing parallels between Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and our ongoing pursuit of understanding in the world of data.

Full disclosure, I had to do a bit of research to get reacquainted with Carroll’s story but was quickly reminded that Alice’s adventure was ultimately a series of situations where choices she made based on the data or situations presented to her had a dramatic impact on what happened next in her story. Sound familiar? As professionals, many of us mirror Alice’s approach, navigating the dynamic terrain of data analytics, and drawing insights to influence outcomes.

With a little more research, I recalled how certain characters in the story provide relatable reflection for our own data discovery journeys. We may be feeling like we are constantly playing catch up. Like the White Rabbit, “we are late, late for a very important date.” Or we may be feeling overwhelmed or “deliriously confused” like the March Hare. Perhaps even a bit crazy or mad like the Hatter! Of course, the Cheshire Cat (like a good Chief Data Officer) was always around to provide hope and assurance with a logical interpretation of the situation.

We all know that hope is not a strategy but acting on singular signals without a connected, holistic view in the world of data decision-making is bit like a tumble down the rabbit hole. It can be disorienting to the point where we’re not sure what to do so we find ourselves, like Alice, drowning in our own tears! Ah, but we know how the story ends as Alice works her way through the underground and ascends back to her world, emboldened by the experience and ready for the next chapter. So, let’s head back to reality and the lessons learned from some of the key characters at the Digital Travel Summit.

Travel Industry: A Data-Driven Wonderland

If I was forced to choose one prevailing theme from the conference it would be that the travel industry is relentlessly driven by using data to create connected experiences for travelers. Using data to predict what matters most in the moments that matter was the common thread woven through the stories shared by the speakers and participants.

Key Takeaways from the Summit:

  • Immediacy Is Expected: We learned from Hopper’s Ethan Hawkes that emergent generations expect real time response even while prioritizing experiences over things. These same generations place a premium on flexibility and sustainability is not optional.
  • Context Is Key: Candace Sparks from Attentive shared that effective mobile marketing via SMS is not an incessant stream of offers that are intrusive but rather stylized messages that compel interest and inspire action. All in the name of desire outcomes for travel marketers.
  • Authenticity Is More Important Than Quality: Before you run for the exits, this statement was made by Konrad Waliszewski from @Hotel who built his (OTA) company expressly for Instagram. His point, as I interpreted it, was that, in the world of social commerce (which is climbing to $1.2T), brand trust and an honest narrative matter most. In turn, he shared that “keywords are the new hashtags” and that “video is eating the world” as the dominant medium.
  • It’s Personal: You might expect someone with the title, Director of Revenue Performance to be maniacally focused on ROI and you would be right, sort of. Cris De Souza operates with that title at Windstar Cruises. She reminded us that in the high touch world of luxury travel, data drives insight and informs decisions but it’s the people using that data in real-time to create a more personalized booking experience that matter more. At Windstar all bookings require a phone call to a Windstar expert. Not surprising really when the customer is considering a once in a lifetime cruise experience that may cost upwards of $100,000!
  • Become Data-Obsessed: My new friend Eran Shust, founder and CEO at OTA Holisto is obsessed with data. He and his executive team have multiple standups daily to review the data that are critical to optimizing inventory availability. Connecting customer demand signals in real time to his client’s inventory at an optimal price is table stakes. But Eran is not just looking for value validation. He’s seeking outlier insights, whether positive or negative, as he and his team continue to refine their offering.
  • Avoid First Party FOMO: Our own Chief Growth Officer, Phil Lore participated on a panel that discussed the importance of having a first party data strategy that goes beyond a data exchange for loyalty points and status advancement. Phil and execs from Royal Caribbean, Escape Campervans and others talked about how first party data combined with a high-fidelity dataset like Affinity Solutions credit and debit transaction data, powered by AI allows for data decisioning at scale and in real time. All in the name of better guest engagement. There’s a party going on and you’re all invited!

We Come Bearing Gifts

To help Summit attendees visualize the potential of leveraging transactional data, my colleagues at Affinity Solutions curated a comprehensive infographic: “Travel Trends Take Flight: Illuminating U.S. Travel Spending” drawing insights from our robust repository of over 140M credit and debit cards that we source through our banking loyalty business. We see detailed spending information across thousands of brands every day. The billions of dollars and even more transactions inform incredibly rich insights and power marketing outcomes tied to a transaction truth set. For travel, it’s a good news story! One of recovery, resilience and reimagination. Explore it here.


Much like Alice, we may feel like we are tumbling into a rabbit hole of uncertainty in the ever-evolving world of data. Yet, it’s these journeys through the rabbit hole that may, in fact, lead us to a wonderland where we learn and grow. The travel industry as a collective, in service to its guests, will always be held to a higher standard as travelers seek more connected and curated experiences. My take is the industry is more collaborative than ever, combining technology, ideas, and insights to ensure experiences are indeed a wonderland.

After all, in the words of Alice, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, I was a different person then.” Embrace the transformative power of consumer purchase data and join us on this exciting journey.

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